8 Types of Products for Better Catalog Presentation Online

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 types of online products. 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 jewelry, 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.

Then, once we’ve reviewed the eight product types, we’ll also offer tips on how to organize your products in a way that makes for a proper catalog online.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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, where you’re buying all the books in a series in one bundle.

7. 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.

8. 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.

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.

Variations

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.

Customizations

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.

Video Tutorial

Choosing the right product types is one of the most important parts of setting up your store, whether you’re using Zoey or another platform. We realize the topic can get a little complex and be hard to wrap your head around. So, we also put together a video tutorial walking you through the process with examples from real online stores.

An eCommerce platform’s product catalog capabilities are one of the first areas where a merchant can run into limitations. For example, you may want to sell 150 variations of a product, but your platform only supports 100 variations per product. Or you wanted to execute a more sophisticated merchandising strategy, but your platform doesn’t give you much control over how products are displayed or arranged on a category page. These are challenges that we hear from merchants all the time.

Zoey is the solution to these challenges. We’re built to handle complex product catalogs and support sophisticated merchandising strategies.

Start Selling Online Products

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.

If you need to get started on a B2B-centric eCommerce platform, Zoey is a great option. Click the button below to request a demo of our solution:

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