Setting Up Your Magento Product Catalog with Product Types

August 26, 2015

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This blog post is by Jenna Warren at Creatuity.

When a new Magento merchant starts to set up a product catalog, many questions arise about the various product types in Magento. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place.

For a quick explanation of Product Types in Magento please reference this link in the user guide. The most common questions I hear are regarding Configurable Products and Grouped Products, so I’ll focus on those here.

Products with Color & Size Variations

Most merchants will utilize Configurable Products for products available in variations of colors, sizes, etc. You might have heard of this referred to as a ‘parent’ product, with the ‘child’ products being the individual colors and sizes. Examples might be clothing, rings, shoes, and more.

Let’s pretend you’re selling a dress. You’ll want to create a single product page for the dress, and have the customer choose their color and size from a list of options. Some sizes might not be available in all colors. In this case, a Configurable Product type works best. In the backend, you’ll have a Simple Product associated for every color and size combination available. That allows you to track inventory, and do reporting on each possible combination. So if you needed to know which color and size combination was your best seller, or which one to re-order, you would have access to all that data.

If needed, Configurable Products can have varying pricing, images, and more. I usually recommend using the “Quick Create” functionality (Step 4, Method 1 shown here) to create your Simple Products for the Configurable Product. This copies the rest of the product data from the Configurable item. 

Made-To-Order (Rather than Stocked) Products

Let’s say you sell a product that can be personalized with engraving. The best approach would be to use a Simple Product, with a Custom Option for the engraving. Custom Options can be drop-down menus, text fields and more. This approach works well for personalized products and made-to-order products. Keep in mind that the Simple Product will have a single SKU in the product database – however, you can add a SKU suffix for that specific option. This isn’t ideal for reporting purposes, but can aid in picking and packing the order correctly. Custom Options can have various prices.

Examples where Simple Products with Custom Options works best:

  • Personalized products (engraving, embroidery, stamping, printing)

  • Furniture with custom fabric and paint choices

  • Custom-printed photos or canvases

  • Custom-made clothing (such as suits or shirts)

  • Custom stationery and invitations

  • Add-ons, like gift wrap (assuming you don’t need to track stock levels of the add-on)

  • Products with custom lengths, sizes, or measurements

In my opinion, setting up a Simple Product with Custom Options is quicker, particularly when there are a lot of options like fabrics, sizes, etc for a single product. However, this approach has the downside of not tracking inventory as well, isn’t as ideal for long-tail SEO, and doesn’t provide the best reporting. Be sure to weigh these pros and cons for your business before choosing an option.

Product Sets & Multi-Piece Products

The Grouped Product type is best for products where the customer might want to order multiple items from the same page. This is sometimes referred to as a Collection. Examples might be bedding sets, furniture sets, outfits, two-piece swimsuits, and other multi-piece products. You can display multiple products on the same page, and the customer can order one or multiple products. There will need to be an associated Simple Product for each individual item in the Admin Panel. You can also choose to sell those products separately on their own product page. Grouped Products can also be used to up-sell the customer on accessories or related items.

A product type cannot be changed later, so it’s important to get it right the first time and avoid having to duplicate your effort. If you need to change a product type, disable the incorrect item and change the SKU to something unique. Then create a new item with the correct product type. For several reasons, I do not recommend deleting products, but rather, disabling them.

I hope that this helps with creating your Magento product catalog. If you need further advice on your specific product catalog, the Magento Small Business Do-it-for Me Partner Listing is a good place to start.

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Jenna Warren is a Magento Certified Solution Specialist at Creatuity, a Magento Small Business Partner. Creatuity propels fast-growing eCommerce brands with exceptional Magento stores. Follow @Creatuity on Twitter for eCommerce tips and Magento news.

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