Last updated: Jun 07 2018

Area: Episerver Commerce, Episerver Perform Applies to versions: EPiServer.Personalization.Commerce 1.0 and higher

Tracking and recommendations

Tracking user activities and retrieving recommendations are performed simultaneously in a single round trip to the Episerver Perform environment. This round trip is made synchronously and adds a small processing overhead to all tracked requests. The following diagram describes the flow for page requests that end up in a controller action decorated with a CommerceTrackingAttribute. The flow is identical for tracking requests not triggered by the CommerceTrackingAttribute except the custom tracking code replaces the OnActionExecuting step.

User identification

To provide good recommendations, Episerver Perform tracks a visitor's activities over time. This is accomplished by assigning visitors a consolidated user ID (CUID), which is stored in a cookie.

Tracking types

User activities that can be tracked are contained in the TrackingType enum. The following table lists them. Track as many activities as possible - more tracked activities result in better recommendations. The Attribute Support column indicates whether you can track the activity by decorating controller actions with an attribute - see CommerceTrackingAttribute.

SearchResults and Order tracking cannot be tracked via the CommerceTrackingAttribute because the required data is not available when the CommerceTrackingAttribute code is executed. Track these activities  without using the tracking attribute.

Note: While the following tracking types are supported by the native integration API, they should not be used with the default widget setup - they add overhead without improving recommendations.

TrackingType Activity Attribute Support
Attribute View products with a specific attribute value, for example Color: Red. No
Brand View products of a specific brand. No

Sending tracking information

Using the CommerceTrackingAttribute

The CommerceTrackingAttribute is an ActionFilterAttribute designed to be placed on controller actions. The parameter for the CommerceTrackingAttribute constructor is a TrackingType from the table above. If the passed TrackingType is supported by the CommerceTrackingAttribute, it automatically collects the necessary data and performs a tracking request in the OnActionExecuting method. In the following example, the Index method of the start page controller sends a home page tracking request when executed.

public ViewResult Index(StartPage currentPage)
{ ... }

Tracking without using the CommerceTrackingAttribute

If the TrackingType is not supported by the TrackingAttribute, or if the action to be tracked cannot be tied directly to a controller action, you need to handle tracking in a more hands-on way. In these cases, you must manually:

  1. Create the relevant TrackingData object.
  2. Pass the TrackingData object to the ITrackingService.Track extension method.

To construct TrackingData objects, call methods on TrackingDataFactory. This acts as a bridge between the Commerce system and the tracking system - accepting objects from the Commerce world as parameters and returning objects that are disconnected from Commerce. To send tracking data, call the ITrackingService Track extension method. In the following example, both TrackingDataFactory and ITrackingService are injected via constructor:

var trackingData = _trackingDataFactory.CreateCategoryTrackingData(category, httpContext);
var result = _trackingService.Track(trackingData, httpContext, currentContent);

The Track extension method also has a asynchronous version, TrackAsync, that can be awaited in asynchronous controller actions for improved performance.

Customizing tracking data

[New in EPiServer.Personalization.Commerce 1.2.0]

You can include custom tracking data in a tracking request by using the SetCustomAttribute extension method for CommerceTrackingData. Supported data types are limited to common numeric types, string, and DateTime.

An example usage of custom tracking attributes could be to configure recommendation widgets in the personalization service to filter recommendations based on a known customer preference or other data. For example, imagine a website for browsing or preordering duty free goods for an airport/airline, where the available products depend on flight type:

var trackingData = _trackingDataFactory.CreateCategoryTrackingData(category, httpContext);
trackingData.SetCustomAttribute("FlightType", "International"); var result = _trackingService.Track(trackingData, httpContext, currentContent);

Linking user actions with recommendations

Valuable business intelligence is based on knowing which recommended content a visitor acts upon. When the TrackingDataFactory creates ProductTrackingData, it uses an instance of IRecommendationContext to ask whether the current request was based on previous recommendations, by calling its GetCurrentRecommendationId method. If the value returned from the method is greater than zero, it is passed on as ClickInfo on the ProductTrackingData object.

The default implementation of this interface is NullRecommendationContext. It always returns zero. To allow ClickInfo to be sent as part of the ProductTrackingData, you must make a custom implementation of this interface and register it in your IoC container.

The Commerce reference site has a sample of such an implementation, storing the RecommendationId values using cookies, which are then read from the RecommendationContext when new ProductTrackingData is being instantiated.

Consuming recommendations

Depending on how the Episerver Perform environment is configured, different types of tracking events may or may not return recommendations. This section explains a general case where recommendations are returned and should be displayed to the visitor.

Using the CommerceTrackingAttribute

As the CommerceTrackingAttribute executes code in the OnActionExecuting method, the recommendations are available as soon as the controller action method is entered. To get recommendations, call the Controller extension method GetRecommendationGroups.

public ViewResult Index(StartPage currentPage)
    var recommendations = this.GetRecommendationGroups(); 
... }

The method returns a collection of Recommendation objects, where each object has an Area and a collection of ContentReferences referencing the recommended products. The Recommendation object can be used to create model data to display recommended products to a site visitor.

The number of Recommendation objects and the names of the areas are dependent on how the Episerver Perform environment is configured. The name for these recommendation groupings on the Episerver Perform side is widgets. A widget contains information about where recommendations should appear on a page (left, right, bottom, and so on.) and which algorithms are used to generate recommendations such as similar products, and cross sells.

var productRefs = widgetService.UpdateWidget().Where(x => x.Area == "someWidget").SelectMany(x => x.RecommendedItems); 

Without using the CommerceTrackingAttribute

Working with the recommendations returned from the ITrackingService.Track extension method is similar to working with the attribute. A GetRecommendationGroups extension method exists for the returned tracking response data and works the same way as with the controller.

Sample code

var trackingData = _trackingDataFactory.CreateCategoryTrackingData(category, httpContext);
var result = _trackingService.Track(trackingData, httpContext, currentContent);

var recommendations = result.GetRecommendationGroups();