Find Out What's Coming Up After Elbrus

With Elbrus just around the corner, you may be thinking about what's coming next. You may also have seen that I did a write-up about what to expect at SuiteWorld and one of the suggestions was Julien Bessiere's session about the roadmap.

Well, good news everyone! I decided to catch up with Julien and find out what the plan is, and get a sneakpeak about what he thinks is coming up. He's a product manager for the commerce platform and search, so a lot of what he has to say is around that.

Before we start, note that any functionality or changes to the platform discussed here are not guarantees. They are things we want or expect, but they may not materialize.

I want to start with something that perhaps people don't see every day: search. What improvements do you see coming?

I think there are two key areas that we're focussing on right now: improving SEO and the page generator, and thinking about what the next generation of on-site search will look like.

We've recently finished work on the SEO page generator that aims to significantly improve render time of pages. We're swapping out the old engine for Prerender. It does a similar job to the old one but our tests indicate that it performs much faster: on average, we saw pages render about about three times faster. All sites during the test saw improvements in memory usage and none experienced timeout related issues.

As for on-site search, we're examining replacements for our current engine. We've been conducting tests with Elasticsearch and it seems the most likely candidate. Elasticsearch is the most popular enterprise search engine and with good reason — it's fast and functional and will bring great improvements to on-site search. It'll also help us implement searchandising and small but useful new features, like item boosting.

Item boosting?

Yeah, let's say you have a product which is overstocked and you want to promote it to your shoppers. Well, what you can do is add extra weight to it so that the search engine is more likely to return it higher up in the list of results, when sorted by relevance. Conversely, if you have a product you want to push down the list then you could do that too.

So, three big things to look forward to in terms of search. I think one of the big things about Elbrus and 17.1 was the addition of SuitePromotions, what do you think?

Yes. We've spent a lot of time creating something from the ground up that works for both administrators and shoppers. What's included in 17.1 and Elbrus is far beyond a minimum viable product. For example, it includes various kinds of promotions like item, category, attribute based, order and shipping promotions. I think there are three features worth highlighting:

  1. Stackable promotions
  2. Best offer and auto-apply
  3. Backend promotions 'portal'

This gives administrators a lot of control over how they merchandise their inventory.

Firstly, savvy shoppers will really like the stackable promotions: the idea that they can apply multiple discounts and get the best value from your site. Of course, we put you in control of that and you can decide what promotions 'stack' or, in other words, cumulatively discount.

Best offer and auto-apply builds on that as it's an intelligent way of ensuring that if you disallow stacking, and the shopper applies multiple promotions, the system will select the one that gives them the most value. You can also set up some promotions so that they apply automatically based on some threshold or set of rules.

Finally, we've also included a new portal of sorts via NetSuite so that you can manage all of your site's SuitePromotions from one place, as well as some basic reporting on those promotions.

What's coming next for SuitePromotions?

In future releases we hope to include further improvements to the promotions engine. The changes we want to make are a little more complicated, a little more 'intelligent' than what we've got so far, so we need to make sure that we get it right. Two intelligent kinds of promotions that we want to include are auto-added free items, and time-based promotions.

Auto-added items are giveaways. This can be quite basic, such as offering a free gift to every shopper who places an order, to including a 'bonus' item if their order value is above a certain amount. There's a lot of logic that goes into ensuring this works as intended.

The other, time-based promotions, can be thought of as 'flash sales'. Retailers typically use them to generate interest in a range of products quickly by offering discounts on them. For example, if you just started offering a range of summer clothes, you may want to offer a 10% discount in the first week: here, a time-based promotion can be used and you wouldn't have to manually adjust the prices of each of the items. Again, this sort of functionality takes time to get right.

There's other things we're going to be including for sure, but I think those two are the most significant items to look out for.

So search and promotions are two big features of the platform. But some of the key things we saw in Elbrus were fundamental changes to the framework of SuiteCommerce Advanced. Are there going to be more changes like this?

Of course. There are many facets to what the teams work on and while we frequently focus on new features and enhancements, we should also talk about the work that's done to make the product more sustainable and extensible.

So in Elbrus, what I think you're alluding to are the changes to the product detail page. We've refactored it completely. The end result of these changes were things like improvements to performance (both actual and perceived), usability, image selection and so on, as well as better extensibility so it's easier to develop.

In the next release we're looking at what framework improvements we can make. For example, you'll know that SuiteScript 2.0 is available on NetSuite but that we don't use it in SCA — while we're not going to migrate the application to it by the next release, we're certainly doing the research on this.

We're also working on APM — application performance monitoring — previously known as real user monitoring. APM provides the ability to send performance data about the frontend of a SCA site to NetSuite's backend performance management SuiteApp. This data can then be used to track the performance of a website on a NetSuite dashboard.

In terms of changes like what happened to the PDP, we're also looking at what could be done to the product list page. Similarly, the first phase enhancements to custom field support were good: we're now looking at ways to improve this functionality.

Extensibility is important. Sure, releases are a great way of getting new features on a site but improving extensibility makes it easier for our customers to do it themselves. Moving on, I know that there is a tool — or perhaps a set of tools — that people want to know about: the site management tools.

Yes. Since introducing them in Denali R2, we've received a lot of feedback from customers who have used it. We've listened to that feedback and have incorporated it into our roadmap for SMTs and I can talk a little bit about that.

In terms of new functionality, we're looking at adding custom content types. This will enable users to developer their own types of content making the SMTs far more flexible and customizable — it also means that it will cut down on the amount of requests we get to add in new types of content later on.

This sounds like an extensibility improvement.

Well it is! The initial release of the SMTs was to break ground and get the core components in place. Now that we've accomplished the early phases, we're looking at incorporating the feedback we get from our customers about it, as well as coming up with our own ideas about what it should be. In other words, we know we have work to do and we're getting on with it.

Thanks for your time, Julien.

Final Thoughts

Let me just reiterate that nothing mentioned above is guaranteed. However, I'm sure you'll agree that it is encouraging.

I started with search because I know that Julien works closely with that team and I know that it's perhaps not something we talk about much, nor, perhaps, is it something that you might think about. Making it easier for shoppers to find what they're looking for is an important part of running a webstore. While we think we do a pretty good job, we would be complacent to think that things are the best that they can be. I'm looking forward to new technology that will you to monitor what shoppers are looking for and if, ultimately, they found what they were looking for. Elasticsearch looks like a game-changer.

I've talked a bit about SuitePromotions already and I think what we've said about it already is sufficient to tantalize you into using it. I'm encouraged by the depth of the initial offering and I'm looking forward to the more complex things that are on the horizon.

Finally, I personally recognize extensibility as one of the greatest things that we as a company can do for you, our customer's developers. Even if we never released new functionality, having an extensible platform for you would enable you to make those changes yourself. Of course, we're not going to stop writing new code any time soon, but I think it's good the underlying basis for new functionality can be organically grown by you.