Introducing Centra: A deep-dive into the newest headless eCommerce platform

Written by Emma Forward
Sandqvist

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As Centra graces the UK market with their headless eCommerce platform, it’s clear they’re here to shake things up. 

As soon as we saw Centra, we were intrigued. We wanted to know everything there was to know about this new eCommerce platform — what is it? Where has it come from? And what can it do?

In this article, we’ll explore the various features Centra has to offer so you can see whether or not it’s a suitable contender for your eCommerce store.

If you’re the owner, marketing manager, or CTO of a high-end fashion or lifestyle brand, this article is for you.

Before we introduce you to Centra, let’s go a little further back in time. One of Centra’s co-founders, Piotr Zaleski, originally ran a high-fashion denim brand named Julian Red. This brand had a strong international customer base and, much like the fashion retailers of its time, it relied on wholesale relationships to succeed.

Piotr recognised there could be a better way to manage retail operations. This, in part, sparked the creation of Centra in 2015. What started as a small eCommerce platform has grown into a headless fashion eCommerce platform with a team of over 150 people.

An introduction to Centra

Centra runs on the belief that brands succeed when they operate across local, wholesale, marketplace, and direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels. Along with this holistic approach to retail operations, Centra is also guided by six core principles.

The six principles behind Centra are:

  • Only work with brands directly (as opposed to retailers or department stores)
  • Global & local
  • Pixel perfect design
  • Headless
  • DTC & Wholesale
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

One of the things that really stood out to us about Centra is their commitment to only work with brands and, more specifically, those in the fashion space. Not only is this also the type of brand we love to work with, it also ties in beautifully with Piotr’s background and gives them a chance to really create a platform that targets the exact challenges and needs of fashion and lifestyle brands. This laser-focused positioning could be the thing that makes them stand out against the competition.

Centra features

As a headless eCommerce platform, Centra brings some dynamic features to the table. 

The flexibility of Centra gives us hope that it will be able to support a variety of fashion and lifestyle brands. With a holistic multichannel approach, Centra also offers an array of functionalities designed to meet the diverse needs of modern luxury brands.

Let’s dive into some of the most notable features and functionalities of Centra.

Direct-to-consumer capabilities

DTC selling is the bread and butter of Centra’s eCommerce platform — touting itself as the only DTC platform that’s “delivered from the cloud, and designed specifically for brands in the fashion & lifestyle sector looking to grow fast, globally”.

Centra’s DTC storefronts are made up of:

  • Decoupled frontend and backend for highly customisable storefront display options
  • A centralised order management system (OMS)
  • Intuitive product information management
  • An advanced cross-channel inventory management system

As a headless platform, Centra allows the eCommerce storefront to be decoupled from the backend. This makes it easy to change the look of the storefront without interfering with the backend functionality. The headless nature also lets you use your preferred content management system (CMS). 

Centra’s unified system means you can manage every aspect of your DTC brand from one place. The product information management (PIM) system also centralises product management so you can automatically collect, update, or distribute product data across all changes.

Wholesale functionality

Centra’s wholesale experience is built on their DTC experience by allowing merchants to create a digital showroom. This digital showroom shakes up the legacy distribution model. 

The old way of doing wholesale involved in-person meetings, sales reps, and travelling. Centra’s wholesale model aims to change this by making the wholesale buying experience virtual. The digital wholesale experience within Centra features:

  • A wholesale storefront-as-a-service frontend through their digital showroom
  • Advanced wholesale pricing logic
  • Wholesale-specific order management capabilities
  • Account segmentation and personalisation
  • In-depth wholesale analytics and reporting 

The digital showrooms, pricing logic, and easy ordering capabilities simplifies the wholesale buying process. 

Site maintenance

As a headless eCommerce platform that has lots of built-in functionality, and API integrations for the stuff it can’t handle, Centra streamlines your tech stack. This means you don’t need to worry about keeping multiple apps updated. 

Centra’s developers are hard at work releasing fortnightly updates which are automatically rolled out to their users, ensuring brands always have the latest version of Centra Commerce.

Centra also boasts a 99.99% availability guarantee — even on big retail days like Black Friday. The decoupled nature lends itself to fast site load times and continual stability (something that Shopify struggled with more than usual in 2023).

If you ever need a helping hand from a Centra team member, their customer support team is available 24/7 or they have an extensive library of resources through their support centre, including a specific Centra Developer knowledge hub.

Internationalisation and localisation

As we said near the start of this article, we were most impressed by Centra’s internationalisation capabilities. Many fashion brands grow by expanding into new markets. Yet implementing and managing multiple eCommerce markets can be challenging.

Centra seems to put internationalisation at the heart of its platform by making it easy for brands to create new localised storefronts. With Centra, brands can:

  • Create and customise multiple storefronts from one backend
  • Segment orders and inventory data by market
  • Set up localised pricing, languages, content, and size charts for each market
  • Manage taxes natively
  • Benefit from multi-warehouse capabilities and intelligent inventory allocation rules

This multi-store architecture gives brand owners greater control on both a local and global level, making it easy for brands to enter new markets and expand internationally.

“Unlike Shopify expansion stores, where the basket is cleared if the user switches currency, baskets can be retained between markets in Centra. Moreover, because any store can be set up as a warehouse in Centra, brands can ship from store, even internationally. Those are some smart capabilities to improve the user experience.”

— Emma Forward, eCommerce consultant

Centra PIM screenshot

Image source: Centra LinkedIn post

Multiple storefronts

With Centra, brands can create multiple storefronts to diversify their online presence for different audiences, regions, or product lines. By building this feature into their eCommerce platform natively, Centra makes it easy for brands to personalise the online shopping experience for different audiences or uses. 

Centra can also share data between each storefront for easier multi-store management, particularly when running both DTC and wholesale storefronts at the same time, and see a global view across all stores too. This is a feature that has long been missing from Shopify Plus.

“UK Shopify merchants don’t have Shopify Markets Pro available to them yet, which means if they need support with calculating tax and duties and a third party to be the merchant of record, they need to integrate with a cross border tool such as Avalara, Global-e or Zonos. 

If they use Shopify Markets, then they can’t have separate payout currencies or order management systems, meaning they’ll pay a 2% currency conversion fee for each transaction outside of their payout currency (usually GBP). If they use expansion stores then they can, but then they’ll need a syncing app like Syncio otherwise they’ll need to be updating products separately for each market, which could be time consuming if they don’t need that level of granularity. Centra on the other hand manages multi-warehouse, multi-currency and tax and duties with more ease, and gives the brand an overall admin view across all stores (similar to Adobe Commerce).”

– Emma Forward, eCommerce consultant

Note: Want to see how Centra compares to Shopify Plus? Dive into our Centra vs Shopify Plus article next.

Promotions

Bundles, discounts, and sales… brands love a good promotional strategy. Thankfully, Centra caters to those with its bundling, promotions, and upselling features.

Centra offers a variety of promotion features to empower high-end fashion and lifestyle brands to create custom offers that drive sales and foster loyalty. 

One way Centra does this is by offering native support product bundling. You can easily build bundles from Centra’s platform without the need for an additional plugin. Centra also offers advanced promotion features with flexible pricing, stock, and discount terms.

Subscriptions

It’s commonplace for online stores to offer subscription models these days. It’s a great way to drive revenue growth for your store, and this is something Centra has recognised.

Subscription features have been baked into Centra’s native capabilities, making it easy for brands to build and sell subscription offers for their online store. This makes it easy for you to allow customers to buy products on subscription. 

Centra gives you full control over the subscription process, letting you create different plans and easily manage subscription orders. You can determine the delivery intervals, set up custom discounts, and modify orders, adjusting to the needs of your customers to boost lifetime value.

This is an area where Shopify Plus doesn’t yet shine. While Shopify Plus does let you create subscription plans, it has to be done through their first-party Shopify Subscriptions app. It sounds like a viable method but the Subscriptions app can be clunky. It’s still new on the market and the reviews so far haven’t been all that great. We’re sure Shopify will improve this feature in time, but it’s great to see Centra has already built this into their platform from the offset.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Omnichannel capabilities

From eCommerce to brick-and-mortar, social media, marketplaces, and wholesale, brands are selling through numerous channels at any one time. Brands often need to use multiple platforms to manage all of these channels.

Centra, however, has comprehensive omnichannel capabilities, allowing brands to manage multiple sales channels in one centralised system.

Image source: Centra vs Shopify Plus vs Magento 2: A side-by-side comparison

Brands can use Centra’s omnichannel capabilities to manage their stock across all sales markets, with flexible options for availability, pricing, warehousing, and more. Centra’s omnichannel system all gives brands the option to offer ‘endless aisle’ functionality. This functionality lets customers browse items that are out of stock or unavailable at their current in-store location.

App integrations

Centra has over 100 existing app integrations for marketing solutions, payment providers, 3PL partners, and PoS, accounting and ERP systems. These integrations let you customise Centra to meet your brand’s exact eCommerce needs.

By connecting with integrations directly via API, these apps require minimal maintenance. However, you will need the support of a developer to help you connect and configure these API integrations. Centra also allows you to choose when and where these integrations are used. You can, for example, choose which markets or countries the app will be used for. 

Outside of the app integrations, Centra has a lot of functionality built into its platform which replaces the need for plugins. This should reduce your reliance on external apps which, in turn, will reduce both your tech stack and your recurring app costs.

Order management

One of the core elements underpinning Centra’s omnichannel functionality is the order management system. Centra acts as a centralised order management system for merchants. This allows brands to integrate third-party logistics and supply chain into the order process to reduce costs and streamline processes. 

Order management automations further fuel Centra’s order capabilities. Automations covered by Centra include order routing, order splitting, shipping, inventory forecasting, reordering, and inventory management.

The order management system also lets brands take pre-orders on stock, minimising overheads by ensuring stock remains fluid. The order workflows for both DTC and wholesale sales are fully integrated so brands can track orders across sales channels, streamline operations, and review data in real-time.

Final thoughts on Centra

It’s clear that Centra has some forward-thinking features. They have tried to integrate internationalisation into the core of their platform — something that many brands and customers will benefit from.

We’re pleasantly surprised by Centra’s capabilities and we’re keen to see how it continues to develop and shake up the eCommerce space. It’s a platform that looks like it could be positioned as a Shopify Plus alternative for the right type of brand.
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