I first started looking at Centra a couple of months ago, when a Scandinavian fashion brand we’ve been working with brought it to the table when we were assessing different options. When it was suggested, I assumed it was like a lot of the other platforms currently entering the market, but I was very surprised to see how feature-rich and widely used it was, both in the Scandinavian market and beyond. I would go as far as to say that Centra is probably one of the most proven platforms out there for DTC brands wanting to go down the headless route / select their own front-end technologies.
Once I started talking to Centra, I realised I’d actually seen it before with a couple of other people we’d spoken with – both of whom I reached out to and they were really happy with it – so I decided to write this piece covering the platform in a bit more detail. I’ve done a few different sessions with Centra and we also spoke to their CEO Martin on the re:platform podcast recently, which was really insightful.
After speaking with them a few times since the initial demo, Centra kindly gave me admin access so I could play around with it and get a better understanding of how some of the key features worked – so I was able to get a more context to write a detailed review.
An initial introduction to Centra
Centra was founded in 2015 in Stockholm, Sweden by Frans Rosén and Piotr Zaleski. Centra has been built for brands, with a focus on DTC within fashion, luxury and lifestyle industries. Although the core focus is on DTC, a big feature of Centra is their wholesale offering, which provides a very clean, rich solution for selling to wholesale customers online. We’ll come onto that more later on.
Centra have a very impressive portfolio of brands using their platform, including Nudie Jeans, Sandqvist, ETON, iDeal of Sweden, Douchebags and Norse Projects – with some of these being on the platform right from the start.
It’s worth noting that all of these implementations are headless and the majority I would consider to be really strong and even best-in-class for design and UX. We’ll talk more about Centra’s partner network later on, but some of the agency partners working with the platform are very talented when it comes to the front-end side of things.
Merchandising, Production and Catalog Management / PIM
One of the first areas I was really impressed on with Centra was product and catalog management, with the platform offering a really broad set of functionalities, from product types to category merchandising to pricing. Examples of some of the key features here for Centra include:
- Native support for simple and configurable products
- Native support for bundled products – this is a really nice area of the platform, with quite a lot of flexibility around how the bundles work (in terms of pricing, stock, discounts, inheriting of attributes etc).
- Native support for gift certificates
- Broad usage of multi-disciplined product attributes (similarly to Magento)
- Product options
- Advanced pricing (such as volume pricing, rule-based sale pricing, customer group pricing etc)
- Full support for different price lists – widely supported across the platform
- Advanced promotions / discounts engine
- Ability to manage product data globally or locally across different stores (more to come on multi-store)
- Ability to merchandise ordering of products at category-level
- Rule-based category management
- Advanced size guide management – ability to shared different types of size guides across different groups of products etc.
- Native support for pre-ordering
While playing around with each of these areas in the Centra admin, I found it really straightforward to use and generally intuitive – when I first saw the admin UI, I thought it seemed quite daunting and slightly old-fashioned, but it’s actually really nice to use and everything makes sense.
The screenshot below also shows the new admin UI, which is due to released fully soon.
Multi-Store and Internationalisation
One of the biggest selling points for Centra when comparing against some of the other platforms that compete for the European DTC market is their native multi-store architecture, allowing for full management of core data locally and globally across different stores. This is a big selling point for brands with a global reach or aspirations to enter new markets as they grow.
Similarly to Magento, Centra allows admin users to manage things like product management at a store-level, a language-level or globally – allowing for things like long descriptions to be set against different stores based on languages, but things like images to be used globally. The same principle applies across things like category management, promotions, customer management etc. The stores in Centra are called markets and managing data, merchandising etc across these is really straightforward.
The price lists feature, as already touched on above, also makes the international side stronger, allowing for multi-currency with separate price lists per territory or currency, which is a common requirement for businesses with international wholesale relationships.
Extensibility and Architecture
Centra is a cloud-based, API-first platform that can only be deployed in a headless manner, with many of their clients choosing to work with a headless CMS as part of their front-end stack. Centra promote micro-services based architecture with different channels connected via API.
Centra have gradually built out API coverage across the platform to allow users to really push their front-end experiences, without having to worry about commonly associated restrictions.
Common front-end technologies used alongside Centra include:
- Netlify – hosting and building of static files
- Gatsby.js – react-based, GraphQL powered, static site generator
- Contentful – headless CMS
- Storyblok – headless CMS
- Prismic – headless CMS
- Vue.js and react.js frameworks
Wholesale offering / product
Another key part of the Centra offering is its wholesale product, which sits alongside the B2C eCommerce platform. The wholesale front-end is relatively fixed, but it’s highly optimised and has a lot of CMS and merchandising freedom for admin users.
Centra offers all of the standard core B2B features most lifestyle brands would be looking for, such as:
- Customer groups (for sharing of discounts, pricing, restrictions / eligibility etc)
- Price lists (that can be shared or customer-specific)
- Tiered pricing / volume pricing (as well as customer-specific adaptations)
- Advanced discount management
- Credit limits, payment terms etc
- Customer group and customer-level product availability
- Purchasing roles / levels
- Advanced shipment management
Centra position the wholesale offering as a separate product and it does come at an additional cost, but it’s very competitive and offers a really fast route for adding a clean, optimised wholesale store. Centra users are able to use the wholesale product independently, without needing to use the B2C platform as well.
Marketing & Trading Features
Centra has a really impressive set of features for trading your eCommerce site and also supporting marketing activity – some of these include:
- Native site search engine – Centra’s site search again is fairly strong compared to most native search engines, with merchandising features and some level of machine learning built-in.
- Built-in customer groups – Centra also supports customer groups for to support displaying different content, products, pricing etc across the site.
- Native segmentation and personalisation – Centra supports personalised product recommendations and, alongside customer groups, customer segmentation and content personalisation.
- Reporting – detailed reporting on product performance, sales, customers and other areas.
The below screenshot is from Centra’s new admin interface, showing some of the native reporting features.
Technology Partner Eco-System
Although inevitably smaller than some of the more mainstream eCommerce platforms, Centra does have a good selection of pre-built integrations, with companies ranging from Algolia to Adyen to Yotpo to NOSTO. Centra Havertz equivalent of an ‘app store’ where users can integrate these third parties.
Beyond these existing integrations, users can also then integrate with additional third parties via Centra’s API (Klevu being a good example that have a few stores).
After speaking with Centra a few times, this is an area they’re looking to continue to develop, integrating with other key third parties that their clients look to integrate.
Integration Partner Eco-System
From looking at some of the integration partners with a client of ours, I was very impressed with the quality of the UX and design side of most partner portfolios – given that Centra is quite a technical platform.
We spoke to Grebban as part of the process and I was very impressed with their approach and I would say their portfolio from a design and UX perspective is one of the best I’ve seen.
It will be interesting to see how that quality scales as Centra progress into new European markets, but this is a really positive part of their proposition.
Although pricing does tend to vary, from conversations with their team, Centra does feel very competitive – similar to Shopify Plus or BigCommerce and less than the average Magento Commerce license or Salesforce annual cost.
Due to the headless nature of the platform, there will likely be other costs associated with the front-end technologies, but overall the TCO is reasonable and competitive with the other options most Centra users would likely be looking at.
Overall, I was really impressed with Centra, both from the pitches I saw and from actually being hands-on with it. I didn’t expect Centra to have such a strong set of native features and also such a good footprint within the lifestyle verticals in Scandinavia.
I think Centra could do really well as it continues to grow and move into new territories – offering a very different proposition to the likes of Magento, Salesforce and Shopify Plus, who are undoubtedly their biggest competitors.