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22
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10
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2015

Introduction to the E-Commerce Backend commercetools platform

This blog post is an introduction to the e-commerce backend commercetools platform, which is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) of commercetools GmbH from Munich, and gives impulses on how to use it.

Rainer

Werkstudent Medieninformatik

This blog post is an introduction to the e-commerce backend commercetools platform, which is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) of commercetools GmbH from Munich, and gives impulses on how to use it.

First the facts to commercetools and commercetools platform:

commercetools GmbH is a Munich based company situated in the north near Olympia Park and has further offices in Berlin and New York. The commercetools platform is a backend for all kinds of e-commerce use cases including online pure players, mobile and point-of-sales application, couch-commerce and marketplaces. commercetools began developing its platform in 2006 and has never stopped since.I will at first give an overview of the UI of the platform with examples as to how to use it and then talk about the Rest API they provide in order to access data for an imaginary online shop.

User interface of commercetools platform

The sign up process is fairly easy and completed in about 5 minutes. You create an account and associate a project with it. One account can hold several projects and you can invite several accounts to one project. You will be asked whether you want to include test data in the project which is advisable for your first project.

Sphere Dashboard
Dashboard commercetools platform

The self-explanatory UI allows access to all needed functionalities from Products to Orders to Settings and content for developers. The first thing you will see is the dashboard which gives you revenue statistics for any given time.

I will guide you through the account as the workflow of creating a project should be:

  • Creating Product Types:At first you have to understand the difference between product types and categories. Product types are used to describe common characteristics and most importantly, common custom attributes, whereas categories are used to organize products in a hierarchical structure.

Look at the product type drink I created. I added two attributes, alcohol as a boolean and volume as a number. Now every product which is created using this product type has to have these two attributes additionally to all the other attributes I will show you later.

creating a product type
Creating a product type
  • Creating Categories:As mentioned the categories are used to organize products in you project. This should be nothing spectacularly new.

I decided to use a root category containing all other categories as subcategories to make my life easier later when retrieving the categories for the online shop. A category has just name, description, parents and children.

Creating categories
Creating categories
  • Creating Products:Now to the important part of the setup, the products itself. When creating a product you will have to choose one of the previously created product types. Note that a product can only be of one product type.

After inserting name, description, the custom attributes and a few others the product is created. You can now upload pictures, add categories, create product variants (for example for different colors), add prices and even define SEO attributes.

Creating a product
Creating a product
  • Everything else via API:Creating Customers and Orders is possible in the UI but is, in my opinion, more practicable by API calls. This will be explained in the next part of this post.

REST API of commercetools platform

There are a lot of SDKs in different languages like Java, PHP and Node.JS for access to the API (check out the git-repository) but I decided to code directly against the API via the REST service. The API is fully documented here. I wrote an OnePage App with AngularJS and used the Angular $http service for my API calls, which I will show you in this part of my post. Transported data in both directions is in JSON format which allows fast and reliable handling.

Authorization

A client has to obtain an access token via an OAuth2 service. There are several access scopes, such as view_products, manage_orders and view_customers, which allow different kind of interaction with the platform. Normally you would have to implement a small server which handles the authentication and authorization. Otherwise the token would have to be stored on client side, which is not save, for with the manage_orders token a client can not only manage his own orders but all orders of the project. I ignored that for my test application and concentrated on the Rest API.

Getting Products

To obtain the products from the platform I used Angular’s http service:

github:17c278bfe8bbffbcf0ca

As response to this request you will receive a list of products with all parameters you can possibly need. Notable is the fast response time of the server which was never over 200 ms.

Carts, Customers and Orders

The most important task for an online shop is the handling of customers and their carts and orders. My test implementation creates an anonymous cart for every new user that enters the website:

github:e4a520ea5f1d2ac8dc48

As you can see I use the localStorage feature to store data. That way the customer can come back later or refresh the website without loosing previously obtained data. Once a customer logs in, the cart will be merged into the existing cart of the customer.

Registration for a customer is as simple as this:

github:d8ddf87ab5d92fb0d28e

The customer can add several addresses including shipping and billing addresses which allows him to select one of them for checkout.

An order is created from a cart or an anonymous cart via POST:

github:0dbe7bb6f61d4ae36127

The process a customer goes through until a product is ordered is fairly simple and only uses a few API calls.

Search

commercetools platform gives you built in fast search and filtering capabilities. Using NoSQL technology, the API allows you to create comprehensive product searches, after-search navigation and configuration. In addition, every change made to the product catalog is automatically indexed.With the built-in facet technology you can enhance customer experience and usability with extended search and navigation capabilities. Therefore customers can find products faster – especially if you have a comprehensive and complex catalog.

The operators point of view

As the company which operates the online shop you have a pretty easy job, too. All products can be uploaded and updated via CSV files which allows you to manipulate all products at once and not one after the other. There are a few different payment statuses which can be given to orders with the payment state.

plug in integrations

plug in integrations

Orders can be downloaded in CSV or XML to feed them to your inventory control system and logistics provider.

Unfortunately as of yet there are no plug in payment methods which is sad but there is a silver lining. commercetools is working on that right now. The same with the direct integration of Hippo CMS which would allow you to manage all content via Hippo.Other than that there are several ways to integrate the commercetools platform to your existing IT landscape (see graphic).

For more information on the commercetools platform, here are a few links which might be useful:

All in all I enjoyed working with commercetools because of the complete API documentation, the fast and very helpful support and the very fast and easy accessible API. Just sign up for a free trial and see for your self.

If you want to learn more about AngularJS, register now for our Training and get Early Bird Tickets.

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