we're currently considering moving a major client over to Magento 2. They sell products from different brands and so the brand (manufacturer) is a key aspect in the setup of the product catalogue (and also very important for SEO reasons).
We've built other e-commerce sites with Magento 1.9, and when selling branded products we set-up categories for the brands rather than use the manufacturer attribute as this seemed to be the quickest and easiest way to get the result we needed, and having looked around forums we didn't get any feedback to indicate a better way of doing this.
So the question is, what's the best practice for setting up a catalogue where the manufacturer is key (for example) when selling bags. The client sells bags by Gucci, Fendi and other brands. Each brand would need its own landing page with description and products (like a category page), as well as the standard category pages? (all with layered navigation).
Is setting up categories the best way to go or is there a better method in Magento 2?
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Yes, I'd agree that categories are the best way forward for this as you'll want landing pages for each brand. Your challenge will be to facilitate catalogue management as much as possible. You may still want to use a brand/manufacturer attribute for other reasons. Updating both is a bit time-consuming. I have come across dynamic category solutions in Magento 1, i.e. being able to create a category based on a rule so that products are automatically pulled in by an attribute value which would be nice for you but there doesn't seem to be a go-to solution for this right now.
Rule-based categories is something that comes with Magento Commerce (i.e. the paid version) http://docs.magento.com/m2/ee/user_guide/catalog/categories-category-products.html