Ecommerce Tips
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What Are Product Variants? Discover the Key to Ecommerce Success in 2024

Ecommerce Tips
Understanding Product Variants: The Key to Ecommerce Success
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Published on:
February 22, 2024

If you've been selling online for any amount of time, you've probably come across the term "product variants" (sometimes also referred to as "product variations"). While many ecommerce sellers are familiar with the term, many find themselves wondering what are product variants, and how they can apply them to their ecommerce business to increase their selling success. Luckily, the concept of product variants is quite simple, and with the right tools, their application can be relatively straightforward as well. In this guide, we'll explain what product variants are, how you can use them to better manage your products and improve your sales, and go over some best practices when it comes to product variants. Keep reading to discover how product variants work, and how you can implement them in the best way for your ecommerce business.

What are product variants

What are Product Variants?

Product variants are an indispensable tool for sellers in today's globalized world of ecommerce. The simplest way to understand product variants and their importance is to think about the variety and options shoppers today have any time they purchase practically any item, whether online or in person. Shoppers will need to choose the color and size of their garments, the storage capacity they want on their phone, or the flavor of potato chips they prefer any time they make a purchase. These subtle yet important product differences are referred to as product variants. In this section, we'll define what product variants are, provide examples of different product variants, and understand why variants are so important in the world of ecommerce.

Definition and Examples of Product Variants

Product variants are a way to differentiate between different versions of a given product. Variations of a product can be based on a variety of product attributes, and enable sellers and buyers alike to distinguish between different versions of the same item.

A classic example of product variants is different shoe sizes for a certain model of sneaker. Every size possibility of a sneaker comes in creates a slightly different version of a that specific sneaker. Furthermore, the same model of sneaker comes in a selection of different colors. To better understand how this variation in product attributes creates product variants, we'll take a look at the New Balance 530 sneaker.

ecommerce product variants
Source New Balance

This sneaker model comes in two color possibilities, and eighteen possible sizes. In other words, the product variants for this sneaker are differentiated with two possible product attribute values: color and size. Therefore, each combination of size and color is its own product variant.

Why are Product Variants Important for Ecommerce?

Product variants offer a way to give shoppers more variety and more individualized buying options, while enabling sellers to better manage and monitor their stock. In the world of ecommerce, product variants are particularly important for a multitude of reasons. When used correctly, they offer a smart way to improve SEO for new products within marketplaces by helping sellers build upon the success of their most popular products, allow for in-depth market analytics and insights, and even form a solid framework for successful marketing campaigns.

How Product Variants Can Boost Your Sales

As mentioned above, product variants are a way for sellers to offer buyers more purchasing options for a particular product. This can have a direct effect on sales for obvious reasons – the same product can now appeal to a larger audience of potential buyers. But product variants can have many more indirect positive effects on your sales, beyond simply appealing to more buyers. Here, we'll take a look at the various ways incorporating product variants into your online selling business can improve your sales.

Consolidating Product Rank and Reviews

Product variations are a way to keep all possible attribute combinations (referred to as "children" SKUs) of a particular product under consolidated into a single master product, referred to as the parent SKU. Online retail sites – from webstores like the New Balance site in the example above to ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon – will usually have a single product page for the parent SKU, under which all the product's variants are sold. One of the benefits of this structure is the fact that it aggregates the product's ranking and reviews into one place, making your buyers' shopping experience much simpler, thereby encouraging sales.

If each product variation had its own separate page, the New Balance sneakers in our earlier example would have reviews for a size M7.5/W9 in the "white with natural indigo" color, reviews for the M9/W10.5 in the "moonbeam with sea salt" color, and so forth. This would not only create a cumbersome shopping experience by making it difficult for buyers to see relevant reviews and ratings, it would also mean that each product variant would have to rank in searches on its own and compete against other variations of the same product.

Attracting a Wider Audience

Product variations give you a way to offer slight variations on your original product in order to attract a wider audience of potential buyers. Some examples of this include offering extended clothing sizes or wide fit shoes; each unique size and fit will be its own product variation. With more sizing options, your product can be suitable for a larger number of people, and your pool of potential buyers grows.

Catering to Different Preferences

Aside from offering extended size ranges, product variations can help you cater to more buyer preferences. If you see that your competitors are selling an item in a trending color, adding a product variant of that color can help you net more sales. Or, if you're selling seasonal printed tees, adding new variants to last season's favorites can keep you on trend for many years to come and attract more buyers.  

Encouraging Upselling and Cross-selling

Product variants help you suggest similar – and more expensive – products to your customers through various avenues. You can suggest a pricier variant as a similar item, or offer it as an upgrade at checkout, and gain a successful upsell with minimal extra work. This same method can also be useful for encouraging cross-selling, which nudges customers towards purchasing related items in addition to their original intended purchase.

Effective product variants

How to Create Effective Product Variants

Creating effective product variants hinges on a solid understanding of the logic behind the practice, a logic that is actually quite simple to understand when you take a look at the terminology and language used to describe product variants. Product variants are described as "children" of a "parent" product; this is because the children products will "inherit" certain product attributes from their parent product, while other attributes will be individual to the child product. To illustrate this using our New Balance sneakers example, the parent product will pass on to each child the product attributes of model number (i.e. 503) and gender (i.e. unisex). Each child product will have two unique attributes: size and color.

With this understanding of the basics of how product variants work and the rationale behind them, we’ll take a look at how you can create product variants that make sense for your business and for the products you sell. We’ll discuss how to design product variants that suit the needs of your target audience, how to use customer feedback when creating variants, how to optimize variants for SEO, and how to effectively manage your entire catalog of products and their variants.  

Designing Product Variants for Your Target Audience

When designing your product variants, two things should guide you: the product you're selling and the target audience you're marketing it to. The first one is obvious – your variants have to make sense for the product you're selling. You wouldn't create flavor variants for a sneaker, of course. The second one, however, is slightly more complex to grasp, but no less important.

Your target audience are the people who you want buying your product. As the old adage goes, the customer is always right (when it comes to demand). Customers know what they want, and it's up to you to cater to their shopping desires. If your customers want a sneaker in beige but you're only offering a white sneaker, they'll find what they want with your competition and you'll miss out on potential sales. The solution? You'll need to conduct thorough and regular market research to understand what your customer base is after, and create product variants accordingly.

Utilizing Customer Feedback and Market Trends

In a similar vein to our previous point, product variants should build upon your customers' feedback and on market trends. If, for instance, your customers are consistently having trouble finding the perfect fit from your available size variants, it may be a sign that you need to offer half sizes. Looking at market trends in your niche is another way to find which product variants can cater to your customers' preferences and increase your sales. Good research into market trends will help you pick up on what's the up-and-coming product that your customers will soon be after, and enables you to stay ahead of the curve by offering it before your competition.

Organizing and Managing Product Variants

While creating new product variants is simple in principle, new product variants mean more SKUs for you to juggle and many more attribute values for you to manage. That's why it's so important to create a product variation system that makes sense for your products and business right from the start, and stick to it when creating product variants in the future. A well-organized and implemented product variant framework can help you manage your products efficiently for many years to come, and can be a valuable basis for everything from efficient advertising to marketplace insights. Additionally, using a product data management software to create, monitor, and manage your products and variants will make it easier for you to implement and optimize them more effectively.

Optimizing for SEO and Searchability

Like everything in ecommerce, how you create and implement product variants must be optimized for SEO and searchability. The specifics of how to go about this, however, will be highly dependent on what your selling and how your buyers tend to search for products.

If you're selling on a shopping cart platform, you'll want to create product variant pages and URLs that are optimized with relevant keywords. When possible, ensure that the content for each variant is unique, or use canonical tags to prevent search engines from indexing variant pages as duplicates and hurting your SEO ranking for duplicate content. Secondly, make sure you use unique product images for each product variant. This is not only a good SEO practice, but also ensures that shoppers can see exactly what they're buying. Finally, if you opt for unique URLs for each product variant, ensure that your URLs are keyword optimized.

For marketplaces, your approach will be slightly different. In our experience, getting an individual product to rank well in marketplace searches is far more involved than simply providing quality product information. Marketplace SEO depends heavily on factors outside of your direct control, which means it can take quite a bit of time for new products to gain traction and improve their SEO ranking organically, if they succeed to do so at all. One way to bypass a bit of the legwork is by creating variants of products that are already successful, thus taking advantage of their established ranking.

Manage Your Product Variants in PIM

PIM stands for "Product Information Management," and refers to software that helps you manage your products and their associated product data. Not all PIMs are created equal, and each one caters to a slightly different product management need. Choosing the right PIM will help you manage your product variants more efficiently, and ensure that you're able to get the most valuable insights out of them for better variant optimization.

EasyChannel offers a powerful product information manager that integrates seamlessly with an ever-growing selection of shopping carts, marketplaces, and social shopping platforms, while offering a built-in order manager, customer service helpdesk, and multichannel listing tool. EasyChannel's product data management is fully customizable, too, allowing you to create an unlimited number of custom product attributes and designate parent and child SKUs according to your needs.

Using product variants
Source: Amazon

Best Practices for Using Product Variants

Now that we've covered nearly everything there is to know for a basic understanding of what are product variants, we'll take a look at some best practices for using ecommerce product variants in your online business. We’ll discuss how to keep your variants clear and concise to avoid confusing and overwhelming customers with too much variety and choice, how to provide clear and detailed product information to make the distinction between your product variants easy to understand for your customers, the importance of maintaining consistency in your variants, and the importance of regularly reviewing and updating your product variants.

Avoiding Confusion and Overwhelming Customers

We'll start with something that seems obvious, but is easy to overlook once you've dipped your toe into the world of product variants: not every product needs variants, and not every product attribute variation warrants its own product variant. Sometimes, variants are not the right choice for a specific product, and sometimes variants should really be their own standalone product.

To better understand this, we'll use a simple example of a seller selling solid color t-shirts; we'll have five color choices (white, black, red, green, blue, and beige), five size choices (XS, S, M, L, XL), and two neckline options (crewneck or v-neck). All these variation options can be overwhelming to your customers, and don't necessarily make sense from product management, marketing, and SEO perspectives. Rather than take the neckline of the t-shirt and make it into a product variant, we may want to create two separate products – crewneck t-shirts and v-neck t-shirts – each with their own respective size and color variations.

This makes more sense from a SKU management perspective, as it creates more manageable product variant (child SKU) groupings. In terms of marketing, it allows you to spend your ad budget more wisely by advertising "crewneck t-shirts" rather than a much more vague "t-shirts." Plus, since buyers are far more likely to search for "white crewneck t-shirt" or "black v-neck," this choice makes sense from an SEO perspective, too.

Offering Clear and Detailed Product Information

To your customers, it should be immediately obvious what differentiates one product variant from another. This means not only providing clear and detailed product information for each variant, but also including a picture of each variant that allows buyers to see exactly what it is they'll be purchasing.

example of product variants
Source Apple, Visual comparison between iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus before variation is selected

If the variant isn't visually obvious (such as a difference in storage capacity, for example), make sure to clearly convey the difference to your customers.

another example of product variants
Source Apple, Three possible storage capacities for the iPhone 14. Buyers must first choose between the Plus or standard model, then choose a color, and only then are they able to choose capacity.

The easier you make it for your buyers to distinguish between variants, the better success you'll have not only in encouraging sales, but also in avoiding returns.

Maintaining Consistency Across Variants

Buyers expect cohesiveness in their shopping experience, and that means you need to maintain consistency in your product variants. Ensure that your variants are consistent in their grouping – if you have created variants of a particular sneaker model based on size, don't suddenly include a variant SKU based only on color. In a similar vein, ensure that your product variants are actually variations of a parent product. This means that you won't have a pair of pants and a t-shirt as variants of a single product, because they're not the same product at all. To put it succinctly, the product variants you create should make sense as variations of a product, and their distinguishing factors must be consistent.

Regularly Reviewing and Updating Variants

The world of ecommerce is dynamic, which means that all moving parts must regularly be checked for metaphorical wear and tear. In our experience, a bi-yearly analysis of your product performance by variants can go a long way towards cleaning up your SKUs and ridding you of unnecessary products that buyers are no longer interested in. From this information you can learn a lot about your target audience, and create or update variants to ensure that they are in line with the demands of the market.  

product variants

Conclusion: The Power of Product Variants in Ecommerce

Product variants are a powerful tool in the world of ecommerce. They offer a way to manage your SKUs in a more efficient way, provide a simple way to improve the SEO ranking of new products on online retail marketplaces, and enable sellers to cater to their buyer's preferences while widening their pool of potential buyers.

A solid understanding of the basics of product variants is essential to getting the most out of this powerful tool, and an accessible product information manager like EasyChannel is essential for managing and optimizing product variants to get the most benefit out of them. When implemented, managed, and regularly updated, product variants can be an indispensable tool for successful online selling.

You made it! and you're now more equipped to sell more online!

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