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The Essence of SAP Retail Master Data

The essence of SAP Retail Master Data is manifested at the intersection of Products and Locations. We also call them Articles and Sites, or Materials and Plants. Take your pick; the SAP lexicon is forever morphing for your enjoyment.

Whatever you call them, the number of Products times the number of Locations is a big number in SAP Retail. It quantifies the Retail Master Data challenge, and billions is the typical unit of measure.

You’ve got to massively create and maintain product data, location data, and product data that’s location specific. Yes, please, and with least effort.

A central concept permeates SAP Retail Master Data to enable master data creation: using master data to create master data. If you get your head around this idea — even at a high level — then you’ll begin to grasp the elegance and uniqueness of SAP Retail Master Data.

This is true for both SAP S/4HANA Retail for Merchandise Management and SAP S/4HANA for Fashion and Vertical Business. I use SAP Retail as shorthand to mean both applications.

Two key things about the key business objects:

  • An SAP Retail Article Master is not a Material Master. It’s fundamentally more than a Material Master, enabled by the central concept.
  • An SAP Retail Site Master is not a Plant. It’s fundamentally more than a Plant, enabled by the central concept.

The nature of these SAP Retail business objects combine with orchestrated reference master data to minimize effort.

Using Master Data to Create Master Data

If you’re going to create many of anything — widgets, Article Masters, Site Masters — then using a template is far better than starting each from scratch. That’s the SAP Retail approach.

For example, creating a new Site Master (e.g. Store, Distribution Center) as a production business process always begins by choosing a so-called “Reference Site.” The reason for this is that significant configuration and master data are copied from the Reference Site to the new Site Master as it’s created.

The result is twofold. First of all, an amazing amount of underlying complexity is completely hidden from the human performing this task. Secondly, the process of creating a new Store, for example, is reduced to a few minutes of work with very little user input.

Both points are significant. Critical master data is created, error-free, with least effort and maximum consistency. But achieving this simple-looking production process is preceded by significant effort in arranging and testing many “hidden” parts.

Using Lots of Master Data to Create Lots of Master Data

Creating an Article Master is far more consequential and complex. When orchestrated properly, the process appears inconsequential and simple.

Article Master are also created based on templates, using so-called “Reference Articles.” But an end-user may not even be aware of this critical reference master data, or the many other reference master data that enable the process.

It begins with the humble Merchandise Category, which is a mandatory input when creating an Article.  The designation of Merchandise Category classifies the Article. But it’s far more important than that.

SAP Retail business processes assume that a Merchandise Category designation provides business context. From a system perspective, Merchandise Category is assumed to mean something. That should be your perspective too.

Merchandise Categories are used to group Articles by their nature. The Merchandise Category answers the question: What is this thing?  Similar “things” belong in the same Merchandise Category, and two or more Merchandise Categories should differentiate between two substantively different “things.”

Merchandise Categories are assigned to a Merchandise Category Hierarchy. Its main purpose is to provide hierarchical reporting in SAP Business Intelligence (BI) and SAP Business Warehouse (BW). It answers the question: How do I want to roll up and drill down through Article Master-relevant data (e.g. procurement, sales)? Naturally, standard BW extractors fetch Merchandise Category Hierarchy and Merchandise Category data for this purpose.

Reference Articles

Now here’s where it starts to get interesting. A Reference Article is assigned to one or more Merchandise Categories.

If you have a thousand Merchandise Categories then you could conceivably have a thousand Reference Articles.

Remember that the purpose of the Reference Article is to serve as a template for creating a new Article Master, with least effort and maximum consistency. Because a Reference Article is assigned to a Merchandise Category, and because a user must specify a Merchandise Category when creating a new Article Master, the system copies master data values from the Reference Article assigned to the Merchandise Category to the new Article Master as it’s being created.

Because there are usually many Merchandise Categories, which group Articles by their nature, this provides the possibility for granularity with respect to Reference Articles. It’s possible to have a unique Reference Article for each Merchandise Category. That’s not an uncommon design.

For example, a specific Reference Article is assigned to Merchandise Category 123. Articles created in Merchandise Category 123 are expected to be similar “things.” It’s reasonable to expect that these similar things should be created from the same template.

Already you should be thinking: “Merchandise Categories appear to be enormously important to enabling creation of Article Master data. They’re not only for classifying Articles.” Save that thought. We’re just getting started.

Informational Characteristics

Informational Characteristics are also assigned to Merchandise Categories.

While it’s common to enhance the SAP Article Master with your own attributes, it’s also possible to create them as pure master data by using Characteristics.

Because an Informational Characteristic is assigned to a Merchandise Category, and because a user must specify a Merchandise Category when creating a new Article Master, the new Article Master inherits the Characteristic from the Merchandise Category. Again because Merchandise Categories group Articles by their nature, this provides granularity. For example, if the Articles in Merchandise Category 123 are similar “things” then it’s reasonable to expect that these similar things could and should inherit the same Informational Characteristics.

Reference Sites (Again?)

Hold on to your hat, because we’re about to reach the intersection of Article and Site, where the traffic is dangerous. For your safety and pleasure, we’re about to enable massively creating product data that’s location specific.

You’ve already learned about Reference Sites, which are used as templates for creating new Site Masters. You’ve been fairly warned that the SAP lexicon is designed for maximum confusion. And here it comes: now I’m going to introduce Reference Sites that are used for Article Masters. As you should expect, even though I used the words “Reference Sites” to described these, they aren’t the Reference Sites used to create new Site Masters. These Reference Sites aren’t even templates; they establish a data retention level (also known as a validly area).

There are two possible Global Reference Sites for Article Master in an SAP client: a global Reference Store and a global Reference Distribution Center (DC). For more granularity, it’s also possible to create and assign Reference Stores per Distribution Chain (Sales Organization + Distribution Channel).

Reference Sites + Reference Articles. Oh My!

What are these Reference Sites for? On top of Reference Articles (already granular, by Merchandise Category), these Reference Sites enable default data to be maintained by Site Category. That is to say, product data that’s location specific can be maintained in a Reference Article separately for Stores and Distribution Centers.

What’s more, if you’ve created and assigned Reference Stores per Distribution Chain, then product data that’s Store specific can be maintained for a Reference Article per Distribution Chain. A common scenario demanding this level of granularity is to provide different default values for Stores in one country versus another country.

  • When an Article Master’s Logistics Store data is maintained without specifying a Plant, then that material-plant-specific data is stored in tables (e.g. MARC) using the Plant Number of the global Reference Store.
  • When an Article Master’s Logistics DC data is maintained without specifying a Plant, then that material-plant-specific data is stored in tables (e.g. MARC) using the Plant Number of the global Reference DC.
  • When a new Article Master is created, Logistics-Store specific and Logistic-DC-specific master data values are copied from the Reference Article to the new Article Master.

Yes, Merchandise Categories are enormously important to enabling creation of Article Master data. Now add Reference Articles (also many) and Site-level granularity to the scheme of Reference Master data. All of this complexity is hidden from users. But it works only if your reference master data strategy and ongoing maintenance are carefully considered and managed. Does your head hurt yet?  Save that thought. We’re just getting started.

Assortment Management and Execution

Up to this point, we’ve enabled massively creating product data that’s location specific, but we haven’t actually created any product data that’s location specific. There’s yet more dependent master data to be maintained before that can happen.

Assortment Management is an SAP Retail business process that announces the intention to sell a Product, at a Location, within validity dates. There are several approaches available: Manual, Automatic, or interface from a Space Management system. Regardless of chosen approach, master data is managed so that a uniquely SAP Retail process — called Listing — can then determine which Products are authorized for business processes at which Locations, within validity dates.

When Listing is executed, the system analyzes master data maintained across Assortments, Sites, Articles, and more. Based on analysis, the system generates authorizations (Listing Conditions) and massively creates location-specific Article Master data.

Let’s say that Article 12345 is created, from a Reference Article. The Article Master’s Logistics Store data is maintained with values. The Article Master’s Logistics DC data is maintained with values. So far there are only 2 location-specific records in the system. One row of data for the global Reference Store, and one row of data for the global Reference Distribution Center.

The Article can’t be used in any business processes because no location-specific data exists. In SAP standard, we’d say that the “material hasn’t been extended to any plants.”  In SAP standard, extending material to plants — creating plant-specific master data — is a manual process. But in SAP Retail, Listing automates extending Articles to Sites, using Reference Master Data.

For example, Assortment data is managed to express the intention that Article 12345 will be authorized for 10 Distribution Centers and 2,000 Stores.  Finally, Listing is executed. In that process, 10 location-specific records are created for the Distribution Centers. Data from the  Article Master’s Logistics DC view (which was originally copied from the Reference Article’s Logistics DC view) is copied to Article 12345 for those Distribution Centers. In that process, 2,000 location-specific records are created for the Stores. Data from the  Article Master’s Logistics Store view (which was originally copied from the Reference Article’s Logistics Store view) is copied to Article 12345 for those Stores.

A softly humming master data machine.

With that, location-specific product data has been massively created.

The scope of thought, planning, and ongoing orchestration of Reference Master Data enabling all of the above is actually quite astonishing. And it’s all relevant any time that an Article Master is created, no matter how it’s created.

That means Reference Articles and the whole lot are relevant for:

  • Article Master data migration. In this respect, data migration of Article Master is properly understood as a data driven process.
  • Inbound Article Master interfaces.

Likewise, Reference Sites (the ones used as templates!) are relevant for Site Master Data Migration.

What you’ve learned is the essence of SAP Retail Master Data. Armed with this high-level view of a core concept, you’re ready to ask questions and challenge your SAP Retail Master Data expert.

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