Case study: How Netgen Layouts helped to build a flexible B2B catalogue and sales solution

By Ivo Lukač , Mateja Terek -

Up until recently, when you would need a software for B2B online sales, comprising both content marketing and eCommerce, you would have to accept one of two solutions: the first, a mix of cheaper and unchangeable “of the shelf” options, or the second, custom developed and usually crazy expensive. 

  • The first option would present a shortcut but would leave a bitter aftertaste as you would have to cut out much of your ideas, design, content and clever features due to feature limitations and no extensibility. This option, of course, would impact the entire user experience and the overall communication of the brand. 
  • The second option would drain you financially as its development and maintenance would require a lot of time and resources. And yes, maybe you would get what you initially wanted but the fact that you had to continually invest so much would be like a permanent stone in your shoe that wouldn’t stop bothering you.

Well, finally - there are more options on the table.  

Infolox, a member of our partner network, has created the OmniChannel Box by leveraging Netgen Layouts among other components. Omnichannel Box is a flexible solution for B2B sales, marketing and eCommerce which combines the ease of use of a standard software while offering flexibility to various implementations and containing all the necessary elements: CMS, eCommerce system, search engine, PIM and MAM - with a possible connection to your ERP, PDM and CRM

Get creative and pump up your sales

Thanks to this, marketing and sales teams can get creative and agile again, while not sacrificing the speed of implementation nor drowning in huge development costs. OmniChannel Box has managed to tear down the boundaries of inflexible service providers. What makes it even more appealing is that you can use any combination of design, content and functionalities, not to mention - in any number of markets, channels and languages. It works very well for complex B2B situations (multilingual websites, online product catalogues and web shops), but also for some of the most demanding B2C solutions. 

The importance of integration

Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. You don’t have the interest to take long click paths across many different interfaces nor you have time for a slow interaction with the web channel. In fact, you want everything you’re looking for in one place, without jumping from one website to another. Otherwise, you’ll just take your money elsewhere.

Separated solutions for corporate websites, online catalogues, webshops, landing pages and microsites are no longer enough for good UX.

Netgen Layouts, as a ‘head’ and page-builder, gives us the power of building hybrid pages with more than one data source. Nearly every page consists of different content, assets and data coming from PIM, MAM, ERP or CMS. So instead of integrating several systems via 1:1 interfaces we just put them under the roof of Netgen Layouts and render the data in the frontend — Alexander Pircher from Infolox

Using integration via interfaces and APIs, OmniChannel Box brought all the information in one place: content, multimedia assets, prices, stock info and shopping options, available with fewer clicks, shorter load time and less wandering on the website. This is a genuine 360-degrees user experience.

Simplified and improved user experience

With a whole range of standard templates and features available as the basis for comprehensive user experience, OmniChannel Box simplifies the purchase process for customers. Here are just three examples of important features featured by the solution.

  • Product finder, autosuggest & search
    The powerful and flexible filter solution selects products from the range on the basis of different characteristics and displays. The product finder also serves as a separate access to the products and can be linked to the navigation to serve as a variant filter on product detail pages. 
    To offer additional insight into products, product groups, downloads and other content, the powerful search option offers an autosuggest function. It shows the suggestions for similar products or topic suggestions dynamically after entering at least three characters. 
  • Product comparison
    As a customer, you like to compare various products and look for differences, right? This is where the OmniChannel Box also steps in to assist, especially with technically varied or complex products. According to the comparison attributes you have specified, the customers can objectively assess items to make their final purchase decision. The product comparison also offers numerous added-value functions such as a large number of comparable attributes, clear display of the attributes, adding the products to the notepad or shopping cart, downloading the product comparison as an e-mail or exporting it as CSV.
  • Easy shopping, quick ordering and check-out for B2B customers
    Throughout the purchase process, they are given a systematic overview of product catalogues, product data sheets, manuals, tech drawings, operating instructions, documentations… you name it. Also, for B2B customers it is very helpful and time-saving that they can upload their purchase list and order the items faster and more conveniently. 

Finally, OmniChannel Box has now become a solution that Infolox hosts and maintains in its private cloud. This part is important, too, as it speeds up the entire setup process and the time-to-market. And of course, not every bit must be developed from the scratch, which does save some time. However, every new solution can still be completely customized according to clients’ needs. 

Technical solution 

Infolox has been working for years on solutions for B2B product companies interested in having online product catalogue and/or online sales tools. They used several PIMs, eZ Platform / Ibexa CMS, Sylius eCommerce, Netgen Layouts and Apache Solr to create the backbone for their standard solution. All components are highly flexible by itself so the overall solution can also be further customized and extended. It is rather transparent what components are used and that is super important for building the trust between all stakeholders.

2020 10 cms-solr-layouts

The key role of Netgen Layouts in this solution is to merge data coming from different sources - content from eZ Platform CMS and product-related data coming from ERP, PIM, MAM or PDM via the ‘data hub’ based on Solr. This enables editors to create and manage pages featuring various data with simple drag & drop. 

Sylius eCommerce serves for the entire checkout process, from the basket to the payment. eZ Platform / Ibexa CMS is used for managing marketing content. Products are not synced in CMS as there is no need for that, instead they are being indexed in Solr based ‘data hub’ directly from one of the PIM systems. Other product related information like technical specs, product images, and customers data, can be indexed in the ‘data hub’ as well, then used inside Netgen Layouts. Importing bulk data into Solr is a fairly simple and fast process. Benefits of that is having data indexed, available to be used inside Netgen Layouts and easily filtered and searched by the end user.

Considering the vast amount of ERPs and similar systems which have raw product data, it is also crucial to use a good PIM system that can connect to various product sources and provide product enrichment. Infolox uses several PIM systems (like Via Medici, Prodexa, Contentserv, Perfion, etc.) depending on the client needs.  

The whole solution is encased in a CI/CD environment with Gitlab, Docker and Rancher in the Infolox private cloud. 

Conclusion

A lot of experience and knowhow is needed to implement a solution that has a long term vision, fits well in the client’s environment, provides great user experience and is maintainable — and Infolox made it happen with OmniChannel Box.

In a nutshell: OmniChannel Box is a solution which delivers strong eCommerce and content capabilities, especially to the B2B market, by using best of breed components. We are happy and glad Netgen Layouts is one of those.

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