When Does it Make Sense to Create Product Variations?

by Carina McLeod

Product variations occur when an item that has different attributes, such as color and size, is grouped together with its variants on a single product page. On the Amazon marketplace, they are also referred to as parent and child relationships. The parent is the actual product, and children are the variants. For example, with cotton shirt as the parent, the child could be are a blue cotton shirt, a small cotton shirt or a small blue cotton shirt (if multiple variants apply).

Improving the Customer Experience

Product variations were created as a way to improve the customer experience, by making it easier for customers to search for and compare products that vary slightly from one another.

So if a shoe comes in 10 different sizes and 5 different colors, instead of having 50 separate product pages and requiring the customer to search through all the listings for their color and size, they can see all the different variants available and select their preferred color and size from one single product page. Plus, they can compare prices! This provides a far cleaner and much more engaging shopping experience, as it requires less time and effort from the customer.

Better Sales

Not only do variations improve the customer experience, if done correctly, they can increase sales, as well. Product variations help items get greater visibility, since some colors or sizes may have been lost down the Amazon ‘black hole’ on the 30th page of the search results. By appearing on the same product page with colors and sizes that are ranking high in search, these SKUs get more visibility. In addition, customers might find a color or size that they didn’t realize existed in the range.

By being part of a variation, all items benefit from one another, meaning that reviews and customer questions are merged and the lower-ranking products get to piggyback off the higher-ranking items. When it comes to product reviews, if a pink bag has 50 reviews and a yellow bag no reviews, the 50 reviews will appear on the yellow bag listing. For the item to go from having no reviews to 50 reviews can improve conversion and drive incremental sales, as reviews greatly influence a customer’s buying decision and help build customer trust. In addition, if one child has a lot of customers interacting on the product page, asking and answering questions and sharing opinions, this will then appear across all the variants. All of this helps when it comes to boosting traffic, conversion and sales.

Variations and Example

There are many variation themes that vendors and sellers can choose from and they can vary by category. Some of these themes include color, size, shade, scent, flavor and weight. If a product naturally falls within these variations, e.g. a pink lipstick or 1 pack, 2 pack or 3 pack, this is when an item should be set up as a variation. When a seller is trying to set up a variation with a variant that does not exist (for example with accessories or without accessories), according to Amazon’s policies the variation should not be created and the item risks being removed as it won’t adhere to the variation guidelines.

However, these guidelines are often ignored. For some sellers, it seems that the benefits far outweigh the risk of a slap on the wrist and the lines being pulled. But what often sellers forget about is the impact that using variations incorrectly can have on the customer experience. This is predominantly the case when the content differs for each variant.

As an example of a confusing customer experience, imagine selling one phone with accessories (a cable and earphones) and another phone, which is exactly the same, without accessories. You might decide to set up a variation: with accessories and without accessories. While that part is clear to the customer, it is not clear what the those accessories are. Here's what could happen: the customer doesn’t click on that variation and instead scrolls down the page and reads the bullet points and product description. The page may have defaulted for the variant with accessories, and so the customer thinks they are getting all these additions, as it says so in the content.

If after reading the content, the customer selects the variant and chooses the item without accessories, they might not check the content again and think that they come in addition to what is written in the bullet points. Then upon receiving the item, the customer realizes it didn’t come with those accessories, resulting in a possible return and negative review. While the seller can explain these differences clearly in the content and images, don’t assume that the customer reads all the details.

Another thing to take into consideration is the category you are selling in. In some categories, the content (including title, bullet points, product description and Enhanced Brand Content) does not change at child level. This means that the same content will apply to each variant, making it impossible for the seller to explain any differences the variants might have.

Test the Customer Experience

I am a true fan of product variations and always recommend that my clients use them whenever possible. However, I always advise them to test the user experience, as well and ensure that the variation does not cause any customer confusion that could result in a negative experience and possible negative reviews and returns.

Rule of thumb, if the content differs greatly - don’t do it!

Originally published on April 17, 2018, updated February 25, 2019

This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.