Get Started with Commerce Categories

In the Vinson release of SCA, we added in commerce categories.

Commerce categories let you group together items in artificial groups. As you're also able to group together these categories, you can create a hierarchical category structure. For example, if you're a fashion retailer, you could have two big groups for men's and women's clothing, and then break each down into shirts, pants, footwear, accessories, etc.

In this article, I'm going to take you through some of the things you're able to do with commerce categories, such as:

  1. Group together a number of categories into a structure
  2. Group together a number of items
  3. Create a landing page with customizable elements, such as a banner and URL
  4. Use categories as a psuedo-facet to refine results within parent categories
  5. Build up navigational items in the header

This functionality enables you to create attractive category landing pages, for example. For this article, I'm going to add some categories to my site and go through the things I just listed.

Before You Start

We cover the basics of preparing your site for commerce categories in our documentation so I'll only summarize them here:

  1. Enable the commerce categories feature
  2. Add commerce categories to website field sets
  3. Add commerce categories to website search index
  4. Set image resizing options For commerce category banners
  5. Set up commerce catalog

After enabling the feature, the next steps involve exposing the categories to the site and the search. After that, you set up image resizing — this is so the banner that you include for each category is displayed uniformly and correctly on your site. Finally you create a catalog, which is nothing more than a container, to assign categories to.

Once you've done that, but before you create categories, there are two things you should think about:

  1. Whether you're going to use the site management tools (SMTs) to create and manage your categories, or whether you're going to use the backend UI
  2. How exactly the taxonomy of your category structure is going to look

The interface of the SMTs may prove more favorable to marketers and administrators who prefer the interactive interface. It's worth noting the following things that apply when using the SMTs:

  1. Unlike other elements in the SMTs, changes to categories cannot be staged: they must be published on the live site immediately
  2. Category banners and thumbnail images can only be uploaded through the backend UI, not the SMTs
  3. Some people may find it easier or quicker to add products and categories through the SMTs

As for the taxonomy, you probably already have a way to classify and arrange your inventory but remember that commerce categories do not have to reflect this exactly if you don't want it to. You can use categories to encapsulate your entire inventory, or you can use it for a select few items that you feel require emphasis.

For fashion retailers, which is the example we use in the documentation, this might be a relatively easy thing to do. You can start by breaking down your inventory in genders, then types of garments, then perhaps by occasion, and then the items, which creates a four-level taxonomy.

Create Categories

As mentioned, there are two interfaces for creating categories. If you're going to use the SMTs, you'll need to switch to the live site. Once there, you can add new categories in overview mode or the edit mode.

Personally, I prefer doing this in NetSuite. To join me, go to Lists > Web Site > Commerce Categories and then click the New button. Here, there are three main tasks you need to do:

  1. Define the meta information of the category, such as its name and URL
  2. Assign any sub-categories
  3. Assign any items

Naming and Choosing URLs

You can begin by creating the category structure, and not worry about the items just yet. When naming the categories, keep in mind that the names do not need to be unique, so if you sell, for example, shirts aimed at men and women, then you could have two categories named "Shirts".

By default, the title is displayed as <parent category name> > <child category name>, so it would be clear that these shirts are intended for a particular gender. However, the main heading on each category is the category name. It's up to you to decide if, for example, you want to run with "Shirts" or the more specific "Men's Shirts". Personally, I would be more specific not least because the set up and management of categories is by its name and having two categories with the same name will get confusing. And, as we'll see, you can override the display name.

As for URLs, the value you set in the URL Fragment field must be unique within its hierarchy. When you go deeper in the category structure, the category URL fragments are appended to the end to form a pleasing structure. For example, you might have:

Thus, you can, if you want, have multiple categories for different kinds of shirts as long as they do not appear in the same URL chain. This avoids creating unnecessary long and redundantly descriptive URLs such as:

Imagery and Presentation

Once you've set up some structure, you can upload some imagery to go with it. You should include both banners and thumbnails (remember, this can only be done via the backend). When you've done that, you'll see something like this:

You'll notice how many times the word 'men' appears here: this is why I say you need to consider whether you want to be specific or not when naming your category. One cool thing you can do to fix this is to make use of the override functionality. Edit the parent category and then, in the Subcategories tab, override the name of each of the categories to something more appropriate; for example:

On the frontend, this becomes the following:

This is, I hope you'll agree, far cleaner and less jarring. Using the "men" so often is redundant as it's obvious from the context that we mean men's shirts, men's pants, men's shoes, etc.

Add Products

One of the fundamental qualities of the commerce categories functionality is that items can be assigned to as many categories as you wish. This means that not only do you not have to decide on a single category if an item fits in two, it also means that you can create ad hoc categories for products.

For example, you could create a page for a seasonal sale with a discount. Put a snappy hook in the category description along with a link that automatically applies a promotion code for those products.

One thing to note is that you probably shouldn't assign both categories and products to a parent category. While it will show both, you end up with an uncomfortable scenario where the landing page for the category can look a little cluttered. If your desire is to drive shoppers into the sub-categories to view certain groups of products, using the parent category landing page to show additional products may distract them from that. If, however, you think this is fine, then it would be advisable to only show a small number of products and, even then, it may be worth to use a merchandising zone instead.

Adding products via the backend UI and the SMTs is straightforward: simply search for the items you want and add them. However, in my experience it is easier to add multiple items in bulk using the SMTs, so if you want to power through the item assignment quickly, you may want to use that tool. Another benefit of the SMTs is that you can manually assign the order of the items. Manually ordering your items gives you the control to curate how you want them to be presented. This can be particularly useful in categories with a lot of items in as it can help you highlight particular products that may get buried during normal browsing.

Be aware that when you add items to a category, it can take a few minutes before they appear on the frontend of the site — this is because it takes some time before the search index is updated.

Faceted Search

For categories, additional facet-like links are available on category pages. Above the facets are links that point to sibling categories to the current one. For example, when I delve into my category for men's shirts:

Whenever a category contains products, it is treated like a refined search; ie, it is as if the shopper did a search for all products within a category. Therefore, all of the usual facets that would be available are made available. From a backend perspective, that is precisely what has happened. Indeed, if you visit a category page and look at the API response you'll see a URL along the lines of:


Note the commercecategoryurl parameter, which refines the products to only the category specified.

It's also worth noting that the pseudo-refinement offered on category pages is not available during normal keyword searches. For example, if you were to do a keyword search for "shirt", the options to search within the men's shirts category (or any other categories the returned items live in) are not available.


As you build up your category structure, you may notice that links to the categories are automatically generated in the header. And, just like it would be if you built the navigation manually, sub-categories appear under the top-level categories when you hover over them.

We've added in some code to the SCA and Header modules to automatically generate these. By default, the designs allow you to go three levels deep — as you see above, that means we can go, for example, Men > Pants > Jeans.

The links appear next to the rest of the navigation items but you can change this is you wish. Also remember that with the introduction of the changes in Vinson with the new site configuration tool, you can now easily change and add in new navigational items. One way you can use this is to your advantage is to emphasize a particular category; while individual parent categories appear automatically, you could add in links for any sub-categories that you want to appear at the top.

For example, while you may have one big top-level category for your sale items, you could offer sale items per top-level category (eg "Men's Sale") and you may want those to appear in the top-level navigation. You can then assign it a special class and some styling to make it stand out:


Commerce categories give you the opportunity to organize your inventory into logical collections. Regardless of what you sell, this has a lot of potential. My examples focussed on fashion retail because the categories are obvious, when it comes to your organisation, think about how it could be applied.

In NetSuite, we give you a lot of control over this and you're free to assign categories to other categories, to create a hierarchy. To shoppers, this makes sense: it allows them to quickly narrow down to the items they want to look at without having to rely on keyword searches or facets.

It also gives you the opportunity to present the categories nicely with clean URLs and banner imagery. You can always go a step further and add in your own customizations. You can also use the built-in functionality to generate navigation items or to link through to special categories, such as sales.

More Information

Are you using commerce categories? What's been your experience?