2016: End of Year Review

As the end of the year approaches, I wanted to take time to talk about some of my picks — as editor of the site — of the best things that have come out this year. It'll be a mix of content ranging from tutorials, news, videos and documentation. I hope you'll find the list useful in case you've missed anything throughout the year.

Releases

First things first: let's talk about the software that we, NetSuite, have released.

B2B and Mont Blanc

In February, we released the first major update to SCA, called Mont Blanc. Mont Blanc offered a lot of new functionality, but, in particular, there were three key additions for B2B sites:

  1. Quotes
  2. Password-protected site
  3. Log in to see pricing

Quoting is a big deal if you run a B2B site. Firstly, a lot of B2B businesses don't even have an ecommerce site and, if they do, it can operate just like a B2C one where shoppers add to their cart and checkout. But for B2B sites, this doesn't always make sense: your customers aren't like regular shoppers and they're used to thinking about what they want, and then calling you to discuss the details and see if they can work out a better deal.

Requesting a quote is now possible through your ecommerce site. No longer do your customers have to take time out of their day — and break out of the context of the web site — to call your staff. They can put the things they want into a separate cart, and then request a quote through the web store. This makes the entire process self-service: your customers are happy because they've done everything from the comfort of their device, and your staff are happy as they don't have to answer the phone and break the rhythm of their day.

The other two major B2B functionality items in this release are quite similar to one another. We understand that sometimes B2B sites don't want to expose their entire catalogue to the internet. Concerns around competition and exclusivity are very real and, unlike many B2C enterprises, you want to have control over who is able to view your site.

By password protecting your site, you can have that control. By choosing how much of your site requires a login to access, you can be sure you know who has access to what. You can, for example, let visitors see the homepage and some static content, but require them to create an account before they can see your inventory. This has the added bonus of preventing search engines from indexing your catalog.

Similarly, you can also lock down your pricing information so that only people who are logged in can see it. Again, this has the bonus of the giving you control over who can see what (and preventing search engines from indexing your prices). This is particularly useful if you offer bespoke pricing to a number of customers, and you want to ensure that they only see prices that are relevant to them.

If you're interested in B2B functionality, or migrating to a new release to take advantage of it, you may want to read more about it in Three Useful B2B Features You May Not Know About.

Vinson

Vinson was our next update and, while there were a number of B2B improvements included, our main focus was B2C. Perhaps the most hotly anticipated functionality, commerce categories, was introduced.

Create your own groups of products with commerce categories. The idea being that whatever it is you sell, there are always logical groups that can form out of them, ones that supersede mere keyword searches.

Integrated into the backend and the new site management tools, it's incredibly easy to create these groups and have them show up on the frontend in just a few minutes. You can create structure and hierarchies, landing pages with bespoke titles and banners, and create links in the header to point your shoppers to them. If you're running Vinson and you're ready to go, take a look at the getting started article I wrote on them.

Also in this release were two new ways to improve engagement with your shoppers: store locator and a newsletter signup process.

If your business also has a presence in the 'real world' then you almost certainly promote your online business in your stores. But what about the other way around? Why not encourage your online shoppers to come and pay you a visit at your stores? With the store locator functionality you can do that.

After plugging in your data, you can use geolocation and map services to return the stores closest to the shopper. These can appear in a list or an interactive map using a service like Google Maps. This is a great way to re-engage with your shoppers and drive more footfall to your stores. If you're interested, take a look inside and see how it works.

Tutorials and the Path for New Users

This portal launched a little over a year ago, and one of the first things we published was a series of articles that taught you the basics of adding a module to your site. Since then, I've aimed to publish at least one tutorial a month, mixing it up between beginner and intermediate tutorials.

Indeed, we recognize that learning a new platform can be daunting — it was for me! — and so it's important for both us and you that you feel supported. I've talked a few times about how we offer training courses and the new-user path is an excellent companion to it, offering practical and useful things you can do once you've gotten yourself grounded.

As mentioned, we've had two releases this year since the original Denali so some of the specifics of the tutorials may not apply to you depending on what version you're running but here they are:

Denali Tutorials

Mont Blanc Tutorials

Vinson Tutorials

As I said before, all of these tutorials were written at different stages in the release cycle. While some of the tutorials require code only available in newer releases, many can be made to work with other releases — you'll just have to do some work yourself. In particular, pay attention to anything that requires configuration changes (ie because of the configuration tool) and services (because we use controllers now).

Documentation and Resources

It's not just articles that get published on the developer portal, but swathes of documentation too.

Customization and Extension

Let me first highlight some of my favorite pages: the ones that teach you how to customize and extend various parts of the platform.

We've greatly improved the docs on this and, in particular, provided examples of how to do a number of common tasks such as:

Videos

The next thing I'm really proud of comes not just from our excellent documentation team but also our training team.

Our first set of videos are available in our video library and cover a range of topics, some of which are available in documentation form — but I'm sure we all agree that someone taking us through something can be easier than following documentation.

Each one only a few minutes long, they cover topics such as installing the developer tools and running a site locally, to working with the SMTs and even migrating to a new release.

As for the training videos, Bruce Tanenholtz (who sets and teaches the SCA training curriculum) produced a series of longer videos* that provide brief (and I mean brief) overviews of six key parts of working with SCA:

  1. Architecture
  2. Initial setup
  3. Customizing the reference application
  4. Facet and item option configuration
  5. Exposing custom item fields
  6. Exposing custom customer fields

Training and Certification

On the subject of training, it's worth reiterating that these aren't substitutes for the fantastic training that he and his team provide. They are, however, excellent if you're already familiar with SuiteCommerce and feel confident to dive in yourself knowing only the highlights.

In addition to the updated developer course for the Mont Blanc release, we also started a fundamentals course aimed at the less technical users of SCA who need to understand how to perform common B2B and B2C ecommerce tasks:

  • Configuring shipping, inventory, out-of-stock, and billing behaviours
  • Creating inventory, drop-shipping, and gift certificate items
  • Creating web store promotions and define related items
  • Managing web store content and setting up merchandising rules

It's worth checking out if you're not a developer but want to know what's going on and how to make the most of your SCA site.

TIL Thursdays

In the spirit of learning more, we also published a series of articles called TIL Thursdays.

Most of the time, these articles are a way of me spending time to take a closer look at something, usually with the help of one of my colleagues or someone who has intimate knowledge of the platform.

In particular, I liked the discussions I had with JHM Services, Tavano and Intente who each migrated a customer site from an older version of SuiteCommerce to a newer one:

Moving to newer versions of code is a vital part of SCA. We release new code periodically, and not only do newer releases fix and optimize things, it also provides you with new functionality to enhance your site and the experience of your shoppers. If you're on the fence about doing it, read some of the stories above for an idea of what it's like.

Also a part of this series are articles where I have a chat with a knowledgeable person at NetSuite and ask them about something.

The first of note (or first two) are a set of articles produced in collaboration with Hayley Easton. In it she shares her secrets for success for securing scalable Sass on an SCA site:

The next one that I really like is one we did with Gerardo Rodriguez. He's part of the team that worked on refactoring the services that underpin so much of the functionality of the site. The change to service controllers happened in Vinson and represented a significant architecture change. Gerardo offered a lot of useful insights into the thinking that went into the change, as well providing some sample code to test out the new event wrapper.

Final Thoughts

On a personal note, let me say that it's been a pleasure stewarding the developer portal through 2016. I've enjoyed writing and producing the various bits of content listed above, and all of those that aren't.

There's going to be some very interesting changes coming up in 2017, not least to the SCA code and the NetSuite platform so I hope you're looking forward to it.

What are your DevSC highlights this year? What would you like to see in 2017?

*These videos were removed in April 2018 due to deprecation; the references remain for historical accuracy.