Delphine Raymond
Sep 12, 2017 · 5 min read
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

It’s the first article in a series focusing on the modeling of products with variants.


Products with variants are products that have similarities, they are based on the same model, but differ in some aspects from one another.

They offer customers various purchase options for a product such as different colors, sizes, dimensions, flavors, etc.

A well-known example of products with variants are t-shirts. One t-shirt is often available in different colors and sizes.

For all the colors of this t-shirt, the name, the style, the care instructions and the price are the same.
Each t-shirt color has different pictures and could have a different composition.

Offer us more choices

We like being unique, we like buying products that fit our personality, we like having various options! But it doesn’t stop with the color.

More and more products offer us variants, hereafter some other examples:

  • Electronic devices: smartphones varying in color and screen size
  • Furnitures: sofas available in different colors and number of seats
  • Food: fruit compotes varying in flavor
  • DIY: a screwdriver in different dimensions

Ease customer navigation

For fashion retailers, almost all products have variants, in color and in size.

When we navigate on fashion e-shops, we are used to having products with variants grouped on the results page (for example a result by model of t-shirts with colors swatches).

There is one webpage for a t-shirt model and you can navigate between the different colors and sizes. When you select an item and click on a specific color, the webpage automatically updates. At least, the product picture changes to match the selected color. This helps the customer in his buying decision.

On some e-shops, it’s less common and sometimes it’s a nightmare for customers to find the right product. For example you are looking for deck screws and you have a page of results with thousand of similar products:

These products seem to have similarities and could have variants by dimensions.

Improve the accuracy of information

Selecting the right size when shopping online is very important for customers as well as for e-retailers (ordering the wrong size generates high return costs for vendors and frustrates customers.). All the e-retailers have size charts, but it’s not enough.

New fitting tools are designed to help customers buying the right size on online stores according to their measurements. Those tools require the retailer or his suppliers to provide a complete set of dimensions for each of their products and sizes. That way they can generate the most suited advice to allow customers to find the perfect fit.

For one Akeneo customer who is a specialized mattress retailer, it is very important to give lots of specific details about each mattress varying in size. For example, this retailer would like to manage different pictures, descriptions and dimensions according to the mattress size to help his customers choose the right mattress.

As he was only selling mattresses, the information’s accuracy provided was critical for his business.

For him, the following example of another mattress retailer is bad, whatever the size chosen, the picture displayed is always the same.

Moreover all the dimensions are defined in the description and don’t change according to the selected size.

Why products with variants can’t be like any other product?

  1. They have similarities

In the first example of the t-shirts, whatever the color of the t-shirt, the name, the price, the style and the care instructions stay the same.

These properties are common, they are shared by all the colors of the t-shirt.

When a marketer enriches these properties, he doesn’t want to copy/paste all the common information on each color of the t-shirt. It’s very painful, time-consuming and error prone.

The marketer would like to enrich them only once and avoid redundancy!

2. They have differences

In the t-shirt example, each t-shirt color has different pictures and could have a different description or composition for a specific color.

The marketer wants to enrich these different properties for each color of the t-shirt.

3. They have a special display

To have those products with variants grouped on the results page (a result by model of t-shirts with colors swatches) requires that the marketer defines a grouping or a link between the products.

Managing product’s variants in softwares: a nightmare?

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Products with variants can get pretty complicated in softwares (ERP, PIM, e-commerce platforms…).

Some softwares don’t differentiate products with variants from other products. They are only able to manage the SKUs (a t-shirt with a color and a size), they can’t manage common information once and define how products are grouped and linked to a t-shirt model.

On other softwares which manage products with variants, there are some restrictions, only some product properties could differ by variant.

Only the price and the SKU could be different by size.

But as detailed in the examples above, it’s not enough, other properties could differ according to the size (dimensions of a mattress, length of a t-shirt…).

There are different ways to model the products with variants depending on the use cases.

Here are some questions we need to keep in mind when we want to correctly model products with variants:

  • What type of products do I want to model (specific to an industry or for all industries)?
  • Do these products have more similarities than differences or is it the opposite?
  • What are those similarities? What are those differences?
  • What are the properties defining those differences (the color, the size…)?

In a PIM software, the products have a flexible product structure. A t-shirt can have some specific properties such as a style and a composition, whereas a mattress can be defined by comfort type and comfort layers.

Managing this structure flexibility when dealing with products and their variants adds a level of complexity.


We hope this first post focusing on the products with variants helps you to better understand this kind of products and the challenges faced to manage them.

In the upcoming post, we will detail how we manage these products with variants in Akeneo PIM. Stay tuned!

Part 2. How does Akeneo deal with variants?

Akeneo Labs

Stories about Akeneo product & engineering experiments

Thanks to Emilie Gieler, Nolwenn Poirier, Angélique Chevillard, Samir Boulil, and Camille BOURJADE

Delphine Raymond

Written by

Product Owner @AkeneoPIM @AkeneoLabs https://www.akeneo.com

Akeneo Labs

Stories about Akeneo product & engineering experiments

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade