Written by Chris Boyke, Senior Solutions Consultant at BloomReach
The eCommerce space is undergoing a fundamental transformation — away from legacy monolithic solutions towards more nimble, “headless”, or “decoupled” architectures. The monolithic commerce engines of the past typically lacked agility and failed to deliver the capabilities needed to manage a compelling customer experience. Today, for online businesses to compete effectively, they need a powerful, agile Digital Experience Platform (DXP), coupled with a modern, best-in-class headless commerce engine.
BloomReach and commercetools represent market-leading solutions in the DXP and headless commerce spaces respectively. BloomReach is a recognized visionary in the DXP space, and provides a unique solution that combines powerful AI- and ML- driven Search and Merchandising with an agile, open Web Content Management System.
commercetools is a modern, headless commerce platform, providing a catalog of over 300 API endpoints. The modular architecture enables you to rapidly build new customized services for your customers, iterate quickly, and run new business models at a global scale. Because of this, commercetools can connect to all frontends and applications easily.
BloomReach Starter Store
As part of their BRX for Commerce strategy, BloomReach has recently launched the BloomReach Starter Store — a fully productized, documented, and supported integration between BloomReach and commercetools.
This article will describe some of the key aspects of the Starter Store architecture, and how this solution delivers unique value for businesses looking to build best-in-class Commerce experiences.
Keeping it BRIEF
The BloomReach Starter Store is built on a framework called BRIEF: the BloomReach Integration & Enrichment Framework. This framework enables integration with REST API-enabled Commerce platforms and provides some unique additional capabilities, such as “enrichment”, for the various pieces of data that live in the Commerce Platform.
Enrichment Enables Storytelling
A key way for online businesses to differentiate themselves and build better engagement with their customers is through Storytelling — providing an enriched content experience that speaks with authenticity to the customer. Storytelling requires rich web content management capabilities, and requires the ability to integrate content and commerce in a way that the overall flow is smooth, and the transition from content to commerce is seamless.
A key strength of BRIEF is that we enable “enrichment” of the commerce experience, not just integration. Site merchandisers can, for example, select specific products or categories within the commercetools catalog, and enrich those items as desired — turning a generic product or category page into an enriched, “storytelling” page.
The screen shot below shows an example of an enriched category page in our in our fictitious “Pacific Electronics” demo site:
This page goes beyond a typical category listing page in that site merchandisers have added additional content — banners, text, or other content, to create an enriched, “Storytelling” experience. This is all accomplished within BloomReach’s WYSIWYG Channel Manager, an easy-to-use interface which makes it simple to create and manage rich, curated experiences.
Improving the Business User Experience with Open UI
A concern that arises when discussing headless commerce is — how does the decoupling of commerce from CMS affect the business-user tooling? Do multiple systems mean multiple sets of tools, and how much complexity does this add to the merchandisers’ lives?
To address this concern, and to simplify site merchandisers’ lives, BloomReach has built a framework called OpenUI into our business-user tools. UI elements such as the External Document Picker, shown in the screen shot below, allow the business user in BloomReach Experience Manager to pick, and link to, products within the commercetools Merchant Center, without having to log in to another application:
A core design principle of the BloomReach integration strategy is that we seek to avoid duplication of data. When the business user selects a product from commercetools, BloomReach is maintaining a reference to that product, not a copy. So if the underlying product name or description changes, the most up-to-date information will still be presented to the end customer.
Under the Hood: Data-Driven Integration
The integration approach is data-driven as much as possible. This makes it more resilient to changes in data models and integration use cases — things that typically change frequently.
To manage all of the different integration touch points, we’ve created a document type within BloomReach Experience Manager called “Commerce Connector Component”. This component identifies the REST API endpoint being called, any parameters being passed to that endpoint, etc.
For example, the Add To Cart commercetools connector component looks like this:
Adding, or changing connections involves little more than updating these documents.
Once the API call response is received, the framework uses a “Mapping” document type (a core BloomReach document type which is also used for things like resource bundle mappings) to map values returned from commercetools to internal BloomReach values. For example, the mapping from the commercetools product name to BloomReach is:
Using mapping data elements such as this makes it easier to build pages that display lots of data elements from the underlying commerce platform, such as the shopping cart page, and makes the system more resilient to changes in the underlying data model.
BloomReach and commercetools are seeing increasing momentum in the move towards decoupled, microservices-based Commerce architectures. The BloomReach Starter Store represents a productized, fully supported and documented integration with commercetools. With this integration, we’ve delivered the capability to build world-class Commerce experiences using a flexible framework that can grow and evolve as your Commerce needs change.