The Ultimate Guide to Product Types and Catalog Data

Product Types and Catalog Data
Product Types – Which One Should I Choose If I Sell Physical Goods?

When you’re creating your online store, one of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is what kind of product types you’re going to use. All ecommerce platforms support a variety of product types and picking the right one for each product is important, because once selected, it can be difficult or impossible to change it later.

Some prep work can help you with these decisions. Before setting up your online store, define the kind of merchandise or service you want to sell and the business model you’ll use to sell it. It’s also helpful to profile the shoppers you expect to attract to understand their buying behavior. This will help you adapt your products and store to best cater to these shoppers.

With that foundational work in place, it’s time to start building your product catalog. Let’s take a look at the product types a merchant selling physical goods might use when setting up their store.

Simple Product

A simple product is a physical product where the shopper doesn’t need to select from different options, such as size or color. If your product doesn’t include any options, you should choose the simple product type. If you don’t need to track inventory or you are offering a personalized product, such as business cards, you should also use a simple product.

With a personalized product, you can add customizations that a shopper can specifically adjust to her or his needs. An example of this would be a dog tag with custom engraving. You can definitely track the inventory for the dog tag by making it a simple product, but there is no specific inventory for the personalized tag with the custom engraving, because everyone’s tag is a unique product.

Configurable Product

Another term for a configurable product is “parent product”. It consists of several simple products (child products), where each simple product is a variation of the parent product. The catch here is that each simple product is not viewable individually to the shopper. The shopper would only see a configurable product that allows them to select options, such as size and color.

If you sell clothing or physical items that come in different variations, and you need to track inventory for each option, you would create configurable products.

The most common example of a configurable product is a t-shirt that comes in different colors and sizes. The combination of each size and color constitutes a variation (simple product).

Grouped Product

A grouped product, which is several simple products combined into a group, is useful if you are offering packages or kits.

With a grouped product, the shopper selects the amount of each product in the group that they want to purchase. They can also choose not to purchase one or some of the products in a group. For example, they may purchase three out of the five products offered in the group. Merchandise like furniture sets, computer kits and even cosmetics can be a good fit for the grouped product type.

Here’s an example: if you are selling queen size bed linen, you would offer a grouped product with pillow covers (square), pillow covers (duvet), blanket cover (duvet), mattress cover, and a comforter. Not every customer wants a comforter or a mattress cover, therefore they have the option to select which of the products they are getting and in which amount.

Grouped products also work well if you want to allow shoppers to add several (simple) products to the cart in one go instead of having them purchase them one by one. This strategy is ideal for product focused shoppers who know exactly what they want and prefer to purchase in the fastest possible way.

Bundled Product

A bundled product is different from a configurable or grouped product in that it is composed of two or more different products that belong together. The shopper doesn’t have the option to select which one he or she wants, but instead they have to select a combination of the available products.

Usually this product type makes sense if you are selling computer equipment with different options or swimwear like a bikini, where you have to purchase the top and the bottom item. In appearance it is like a configurable product, although the bundled product does not depend on variations or attributes.

Understanding Product Attributes, Variations and Customizations

If you are an experienced eCommerce merchant, you understand that each product has a different set of attributes. These are characteristics that make a product unique and that can be used in different ways to build out your catalog.

However, when you are new to eCommerce, it can be nothing but headaches trying to understand how attributes work and relate to variations, and how variations are different from customizations.

Let’s take a look at each and explore how they can be used to create a rich and compelling product catalog.

What Are Product Attributes?

Product attributes are a variety of characteristics that make a product unique. Basic attributes are title, SKU (stock keeping unit), and price, just to name a few. However, you can assign many attributes to a product and use them internally or to create filters on category pages.

You can also use an attribute to provide additional information to your customers. For example, a shirt has attributes, such as color, size and material. The customer can select the size and color, which creates a variation the shopper can purchase. However, the customer can’t select from several different materials, so that attribute is simply being used to convey additional information to the shopper.

Custom Attributes

Custom attributes can be used in filters and in search to make products more discoverable. They can also be displayed directly on the product page as supplementary information.

Each attribute has attribute options, for example the attribute “color” has multiple options like red, blue and black. If you are working with configurable products you will see that the combination of attributes and it’s options, such as color and size, create a product variation.

How Do Variations Work?

When you have a product that is essentially the same, but is available in different styles or types (attributes), you are using variations. A variation is created by using a minimum of one attribute or by combining several attributes. Variations can also be referred as “child products” that belong to a “parent product” (configurable product). The configurable product, as well as each variation has its own SKU and you have the option to track inventory.

As an example: You can offer a shirt in one color, but different sizes, or you can choose between different colors and different sizes.


Shoppers can then select in which color and size they want to purchase a shirt. When using a specific combination, let’s say color “black” and size “small” the variation “black-small” is selected and reduced from the inventory.


When you have special characteristics for a product that won’t apply to other products and depend more on the shopper, you use customizations, not attributes. Continuing with the example of shirts: imagine offering the option for a shopper to add a specific text, upload their own design or add a gift message. In these examples, you’re allowing a shopper to personalize your product. This personalized content is unique to each shopper and therefore a customization rather than an attribute.

While customizations do not have any impact on inventory, you can still assign them a SKU, as well as add a surcharge for each customization. Additionally, you can decide whether these are required fields or not, whereas attribute variations are always required fields.

Product Customization

While there’s a lot of strategy and trial and error involved in setting up the optimal product catalog, this guide should give the information you need to get started. As with everything in ecommerce, adopt a test and measure approach. Launch a version, look at your sales figures and how shoppers are browsing through your site, then make changes where needed to improve performance.

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