The Beginner’s Guide to Product Types For Online Stores


For anyone involved in, or interested in starting an online store, it’s critical to understand the building blocks of how online stores operate. This holds true for new startups as well as established retailers that are looking to make their first forays into eCommerce.

Regardless of the eCommerce platform you choose to build your business on, there will be some similarities. Every platform will give you a way to customize your design, manage inventory and process orders. However, when you dig deeper, serious differences start to reveal themselves.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to product types. And depending on your business, the product types your platform supports and how those products are managed can have a serious impact on the performance of your business. This is especially true for industries that tend to have more complex products and product catalogs. Example of these industries include jewellery, fashion, and anyone selling products the end user needs to customize during the purchase process.

With that in mind, here is a beginner’s guide to the most common and popular product types, including information on when and how to use each so you can make an educated decision when it comes to choosing your first or next eCommerce platform.

Simple products

These are among the most popular product types for online store owners, and the reason for their popularity is right there in the name. Simple is easy, and it’s usually sufficient for a high percentage of a company’s products. These product listings are very straightforward and are the easiest to set up.

For simple products, the online store owner just has to add the needed description, a price, along with an image or images, and the product will essentially be ready to go.

Simple products are ideal whenever there is a single version of a product that can be displayed and offered by itself, with no strings attached and no variation. What you see is what you get, and it’s as simple as that.

Configurable products

Here’s where it gets slightly more complex. With configurable products, you can offer a number of variations on a given product under the same listing. This helps to keep your online store streamlined and organized while presenting your customers with more options.

Clothing is one of the most common products that will benefit from the configurable product type. This way, you can have a single listing for, say, a long-sleeved t-shirt. Under that same listing, though, you can include one drop-down menu for different color options and another for different sizes. With four color options and three sizes, that’s 12 distinct products the online store offers, all of them contained within this single listing. You can maintain separate inventories for each, viewing 12 products on the backend, but customers will only see the single entry when browsing the online store.

Configurable products are ideal whenever you need to provide options on a single, flexible product without confusing the customer.

Grouped products

Grouped products are somewhat similar to configurable products, except they are designed for sets of different products, rather than variations of a single product.

For example, you may want to offer your customers a single option for purchasing a dining table and four chairs. Grouped products are ideal here.

One key thing to keep in mind is that you typically will not be able to include drop-down options with grouped products. There are no configurable capabilities here – as with simple products, each entry will represent a single purchasing option, without customization or variation. If you want to offer a dining table with four chairs, but also allow your customers to choose between several chair designs, then grouped products are not the ideal choice.

Those are the three leading product types that most online stores will depend on, and which just about every eCommerce platform will make available. Here are a few more product types which, while not as widely used, are still worth noting.

Virtual products

This category is just like simple products, but for products that do not have a physical or digital presence of any kind. Examples include subscriptions, warranties and services. You could also use this option when customers purchase products they will pick up themselves. The big distinction here is that shipping is not an option.

Downloadable products

This category is very similar to virtual products, except that there is an actual item being purchased – it just happens to be digital. MP3s, eBooks and downloadable games would fit into this product category.

Bundled products

Bundled products are a lot like grouped products. The key difference is that the customer will receive one of everything within a given set. So whereas a dining table and four chairs would be fine options for a grouped product, it would not work here, due to the difference in numbers. Instead, bundled products would work well for a collection of books, for example

Gift cards

This is a very simple, straightforward option. Customers can purchase gift cards and send them to themselves or others. No shipping costs here and, critically, you can exempt products in this category from store-wide discounts.

Custom options

Custom options are, as you’d imagine, more flexible. The other product categories mentioned above should cover most situations, but customization is a great means of offering personalization. You can also choose to not track stock for those products where that’s not an important consideration.

Hopefully, you found this brief guide to product types helpful for evaluating eCommerce platforms. When you’re thinking about your business, and the software you use to run it, it’s important to take a long-term view. Just because you’re only selling simple products today doesn’t mean that will always be the case. In choosing an ecommerce platform that can support a wide variety of product types, you give yourself the flexibility to run your business without being limited by technology.

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