Sitecore Commerce Powered by Commerce Server 8 1 Experience

Our team had been working on an internal project involving Sitecore Commerce powered by Commerce Server (SCpbCS) 8.0 for several months prior to a quiet release of SCpwCS 8.1 earlier this year. The new update came with a hefty set of fixes, updates and new exciting features (check out [What’s New in Sitecore Commerce 8.1]( "What's New in Sitecore Commerce 8.1").) We were excited to get our hands on it and without much delay we started the process of upgrading to the new release. In this article, I will attempt to uncover our experience with upgrading to and working with SCpbCS 8.1.

Installation Experience in Sitecore SCpbCS 8.1

Sitecore Commerce Server 11.3

The excitement around the new release started during my week of Commerce Server training at Sitecore US headquarters in Sausalito, CA in February of this year. We were told about the new exciting features that were coming and the significant improvements on the installation front. We were also told that PowerShell scripts were replacing PuP and most of the manual installation steps were replaced by PowerShell scripts. This bit was somewhat confusing to me at first, as SCpbCS 8.0 was already using PowerShell scripts to perform most of the installation steps. Whoever came up with that idea at Sitecore deserves a medal! These scripts literally saved hours of manual work (check out the [Sitecore Commerce powered by Commerce Server - Quick Install video]( "Sitecore Commerce powered by Commerce Server - Quick Install video")), thus, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the new 8.1.

Our team started the upgrade process on two operating systems in parallel– Windows Server 2012 and Windows 10. From the very beginning we ran into issues with the documentation on []( "Sitecore Development Portal"). While the SCpbCS installation documentation was clearly laid out, we had to spend some time to find proper steps for Sitecore 8.1. Many references were still pointing to older steps; make sure to keep an eye on the URL, as it should update from /SCpbCS80/ to /SCpbCS81/.

Once we started following the installation steps, it became apparent which PowerShell improvements Sitecore was excited about. While SCpbCS 8.0 used PowerShell, it was implemented in a form of closely coupled procedural scripts simply executing steps required for its installation, while SCpbCS 8.1 came with a nicely package set of Cmdlets, which went beyond the required installation steps and provided options for management and configuration. Support for SQL 2014 was included, which was missing in 8.0. Although PowerShell added a lot to the ease of the installation, the directions to install 8.1 had errors and missing steps. If you happen to run into similar problems installing SCpbCS 8.1 please contact me and I will send you our findings to save you some time.

What's It Like to Develop in SCpbCS 8.1 Compared to 8.0?

Once the server was up and running we started testing the functionality we had already built for SCpbCS 8.0. It was a very nice surprise to find out that Product Purchase outcomes were now being triggered automatically in 8.1 and as a bonus the Monetary Value was also set for each behind the scenes! In version 8.0 that was something we had to do manually. An interesting caveat on this one is that the Monetary Value for an outcome along with some other data is saved to and pulled from the Mongo DB directly along with other data displayed in the new helpful [Commerce tab in the Experience Profile in 8.1]( "Commerce tab in the Experience Profile in 8.1"). This is worth remembering as the likely “knee jerk” reaction would be to look for that data in the reporting database.

Commerce Tab in Sitecore Experience Profile

Sitecore Commerce 8.1 came with a new set of rules, which uses the new data collected in Mongo DB, which adds a significant amount of out-of-box flexibility to engagement plans and the personalization engine in general.

Speaking of engagement plans, please make sure to update yours to include the action in Abandoned Cart workflow that marks the cart as abandoned (check the updated default engagement plan for reference). This action appears to be missing in version 8.0, which makes sense, it wasn’t reported on, however, now there is a helpful Abandoned Carts tab in the Commerce section of the Experience Profile, which is populated using that action.

As for the code updates to use the new API – we didn’t run into many issues; code porting went very smoothly. The new API did not seem too much different in either the exposed interface or “behind the scenes” functionality.

To sum it up – our development speed of new features in 8.1 improved as it delivered new APIs and pre-built functionality reducing the amount of required development effort.

Client Interface and New Tools in SCpbCS 8.1

This section perhaps deserves a separate blog or its own series, as although there were not too many changes done in the UI, what was done brought an enormous amount of value to the Marketing Automation suite. The Commerce tab alone in the Experience Profile knocked out months worth of stories from our Master list delivering valuable information about orders placed, products, missed sales opportunities, abandoned carts…etc. at a contact level. This information is irreplaceable for creating personal relationships with customers.

The Merchandising Manager got a bit of a face “fix”. The experience seems more stable and the UI less jumpy in 8.1. It no longer feels like a senior project at a university, which sort of does what it needs to most of the time in 8.0. New functionality was added with bulk edits, which dramatically improved its usability.

Product Detail View in Merchandising Manager of Sitecore Commerce 8.1

NOTE TO PARTNERS: We have registered a bug for the “Not supported for AX license.” Error that comes up when updating inventory in Merchandising Manager. To fix it, please remove the Microsoft Dynamics section from your license file. Sitecore clients aren’t likely to run into this issue, as they would either have Commerce Server or Dynamics licensed, however, since partners have access to it all – heads up!

Lastly, the updated Storefront sample website that came with 8.1 is much more built out. The Sitecore Commerce section also includes new sections for countries, currency, payments and other settings, a similar example of which we were planning to build ourselves in 8.0, which again saved us precious hours of development work.

System Administration Improvements in Sitecore Commerce 8.1

The COM is gone! The PuP is gone! These two say it all. The use of COM objects has been removed (thank you!) and the Commerce Server packaging format PuP, which interestingly enough translates simply as Package-un-Package (oh, those creative Microsoft developers!), has been deprecated in favor of the PowerShell Cmdlets.

As one of the tasks on our list for the Commerce Server implementation was to move it to Azure, the Azure PaaS deployment support was another time-saving pleasant surprise for us (more information on that in the following posts).

Reflecting on the Overall Experience of Sitecore Commerce 8.1 Experience

All-in-all, I would give Sitecore a crisp high five for the 8.1 release! In a limited amount of time they were able to prioritize and deliver the most important pieces of functionality to improve the overall platform experience. My definition of the “most important” comes from the dramatic reduction in the level of effort required to build an outstanding commerce solution in version 8.1 and all of the improvements in the UI. Yes, we still have desktop tools, and yes the SCpbCS editing and system administration experience is still disconnected, and yes, the documentation needs to be worked on (by the way, the amount of it has dramatically improved since the release, however, the errors in steps are still present), however, these are not limiting factors to clients. What’s more important is that now clients get much more out of the box, the functionality and reporting that would have otherwise taken months to build, now comes pre-installed, the experience in the existing tools feels much more cohesive and stable, and Azure is no longer an uncharted territory for Sitecore Commerce users. 

If you are currently using Sitecore Commerce 8.0, I would strongly urge you to upgrade to 8.1, and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions on the installation and upgrade, as we have been living and breathing it since the release date.