B2B eCommerce Catalogs: How to minimize the daily grind.

Businesses offering their products online to the general consumer or to other businesses know that doing so also means taking on a whole new level of operational complexity. These entities may sell and market their products across:

  • Multiple channels
  • Online marketplaces
  • Multiple brand names
  • A network of franchises
  • Multiple websites

Because of this, B2B eCommerce catalogs traditionally create a variety of complex issues for IT teams and catalog operators. Many companies also manage relationships with distributors and/or resellers.

Shouldn’t B2B eCommerce catalog infrastructure streamline the tasks and communications required to operate their business day to day wherever possible? As more and more companies choose Broadleaf to simplify and streamline their eCommerce infrastructure, many of them name brands, curiosity about the platform and its flexibility is on a steady rise.

What is the best eCommerce platform for B2B stores?

Giving business operators the flexibility to manage multiple catalog scenarios from a single admin interface is empowering. Innovators at Broadleaf tackled this, looking for every opportunity to make software users feel like they are controlling from one command center when operating their business. The technology was created so that various combinations of capabilities can be bundled within the technology’s framework. This makes Broadleaf a solid solution in a wide variety of unique case scenarios and business models.

When creating Broadleaf's catalog management microservice, building a solution that makes it simple for both merchandisers and developers was top of mind. Developing the software using intuitive tooling resulted in a solution allowing merchandisers to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively while minimizing the need for engineering involvement. The catalog was designed to be highly capable in both B2B and B2C applications.

Without having deep technical knowledge, Broadleaf’s framework allows users to easily handle:

  • Multi-catalog management,
  • Sandboxing,
  • Approval flows, and
  • Deployment to production


B2B eCommerce: Better with Java and Spring

At a high level, Broadleaf provides a set of Java and Spring-based libraries which can be deployed and scaled independently or composed into logical service groups. These API based components can be consumed via a variety of channels and compose the majority of what we call the Resource Tier. We also have a tier of services that are responsible for powering our React-based centralized management application. And finally, all of this is tied together utilizing a combination of traditional protocols such as HTTP, along with Spring Cloud Stream compatible brokers for asynchronous communication.

The diagram above depicts one option to consume and utilize Broadleaf's catalog library. This example has a typical Spring Boot executable showing the inclusion of our catalog starter dependency next to other implementation-specific dependencies that may be necessary for the project’s requirements. In addition, there are many options to configure and deploy the application, such as utilizing Docker and Kubernetes as depicted here. The application can also be deployed utilizing traditional web containers if preferred.

The Broadleaf catalog starter library provides a robust suite of features and capabilities including the ability to manage one or more catalogs while maintaining categories, category taxonomies, products, product groups, variants, etc. Also included with Broadleaf is first-class support for an extensible import, export, and bulk update capability. This allows for batch processing multiple records into any target sandbox state, or in some cases, directly into production.

eCommerce Platform: Does it Manage Multiple Catalogs?

Broadleaf’s B2B eCommerce catalog provides a deep set of rich functionality right out of the box. In addition, the Broadleaf platform provides additional libraries, patterns, and support services that enhance the functionality of those core features. Some of the most utilized functions and services include the ability to handle internationalization and translations, support multi-tenancy, and support sandboxing approval and deployment flow. In fact, when combining the product catalog service with additional core services in the Broadleaf ecosystem, robust full-featured commerce flows can be achieved while maintaining the flexibility to deploy and utilize those services within a microservices landscape.

A catalog is a collection of categories, products, variants, and anything else a commerce merchandiser would be responsible for managing, including distributor and reseller relationship management. At its core, a catalog service is responsible for efficiently managing product catalogs. When it pertains to managing and supporting multiple catalogs, there is a lot of curiosity in the retail industry about the best options available today that can handle the maintenance of multiple catalogs along with these complex relationships.

The majority of systems currently approach this in a brute force manner, or catalogs that need to inherit data from one another are copied and modified as necessary. If a company has a product catalog with any significant number of products, the data can exponentially grow and become unwieldy. This can lead to a lot of headaches, including duplicated data, and a duplication of where the site can be managed, which causes overlap and confusion when making changes to the catalog.

eCommerce Sites: Can Data Duplication Be Eliminated?

With most systems, any changes that happen at the master level that are required to propagate to any child catalogs require an offline batch or error-prone synchronization process. Broadleaf approaches this differently, offering more flexibility when these scenarios arise on eCommerce sites.

One way to specify the relationship between catalogs in Broadleaf is to create a customizable reference allowing for a reference to the master catalog without making a full copy. This informs the system to track only the changes needed now and the overrides happening at the child level, eliminating the need for massive data duplication. Because of this, any changes that need to occur at the parent level can happen in near real-time across inherited catalogs while still maintaining overrides at the child level.

Another option is assigning a lead-only reference relationship between catalogs in Broadleaf. This is useful for supporting a franchise or a hierarchical business model where it’s vital for users of these catalogs to have the ability to utilize these items, but don't necessarily have the ability to change anything about them. Complexity increases with scenarios calling for a multi-level structure.

The example above depicts an organization operating in several geographies needing to maintain regional catalogs. In the diagram regional catalog example Catalog A inherits some items from the larger Master Catalog. Now imagine that within each region the organization may have some B2B contracts with some of its top customers. These customers require items and overrides from Catalog A because they are located in a separate region. However, they’d also like to add products from the master catalog back into their own corporate catalog represented as Catalog Z in the diagram. This is all possible with the Broadleaf catalog microservice.

The main highlight here is that Broadleaf supports multi-inheritance and provides a very flexible composition model that allows the composition of catalogs in a variety of ways using inclusion and exclusion filters. While this may seem pretty complex for merchandisers to manage, the intuitive interface and admin tooling allows them the ability to work with all of these complex relationships and hierarchies from one centralized admin tool. Broadleaf makes it all easier for backend developers too, giving them the framework and flexibility to customize whatever they need to.

B2B eCommerce Catalogs: Making Selling Online Easier

This article only brushed the surface on what Broadleaf is doing to make managing selling products online via B2B eCommerce catalogs simpler. When selling from one business to another online, the scenarios that businesses must prepare for and navigate are more complex when compared with selling to the general consumer.

B2B retailers often sell their products in more than one online store, in a wide variety of channels, in online marketplaces, and under multiple brand names. Maintaining reseller and franchise relationships adds to the complexity. How else would you minimize the daily grind?

Craving more on this? Watch our webinar on Complex Catalog Management, or check out these case studies on how Broadleaf was used in complex scenarios...

ICON Fitness operates 30 worldwide websites under 10 separate brand names and uses 1 codebase for their daily eCommerce functions. See the Icon Fitness story.

O’Reilly Auto Parts’ eCommerce store features more than 2 million products and 300 million search records across 4,000 stores. Broadleaf allows them to use one Omnichannel platform. See the O’Reilly Auto Parts story.


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