Multichannel Variation Listings

March 28 2016 IN ecommerce Multichannel Variation Listings

Variations are an important way to organize your listings, grouping similar items by size or color. What sounds like a simple task is complicated due to each channel having different formats and policies around variations. The sooner you understand how variations work on the channels that you sell, the sooner you can decide on an overall variation strategy for your business.

Variation Basic Terminology

Before talking about variations, we should clarify a few common terms.

  • Variation - A specific item that is for sale. For example, if a T-Shirt is sold in sizes Small or Large, you have 2 variations. One is the Small variation, the other is the Large variation. Each can have a different price and SKU.
  • Property - The way in which your items vary. For example, this could be Size, Color, or Style. In some cases this may have a unit associated with it, for example the property height could be in inches or centimeters.
  • Level - This is how many properties a product varies on. For example if your item only varies by size, you have 1 level of variation. On the other hand if a product can vary by both the size and color properties, you have a 2 level variation. An example product coming in colors Red, Blue, or Green and in sizes Small or Large, you have a total of 6 variations for sale (Red-Small, Red-Large, Blue-Small, etc.). Some markets even support a 3rd level variations, which can understandably lead to a very large number of variations.

Variations on Amazon

Amazon has great support for variations, but a very strict framework for how the variations are described.

Amazon Variation Properties

The properties that you can very on will depend on which Inventory File Template is applicable to a listing. These properties can be found in the template on the Valid Values tab under the header Variation Theme [subcategory] where [subcategory] further describes your product. For example, the Clothing variation choices are below.

Subcategory Property 1 Property 2 Property 3 Property 4 Property 5
Accessory Color Size sizecolor
Adult Costume Color Edition SizeName SizeName-ColorName Style
Baby Costume Color Edition SizeName SizeName-ColorName Style
Blazer Color Size sizecolor
Bra Color Size sizecolor
Dress Color Size sizecolor
Hat Color Size sizecolor
Luggage Color Size sizecolor
Outerwear Color Size sizecolor
Pants Color Size sizecolor
Shirt Color Size sizecolor
Skirt Color Size sizecolor
Sleepware Color Size sizecolor
SocksHosiery Color Size sizecolor
Suit Color Size sizecolor
Sweater Color Size sizecolor
Swimwear Color Size sizecolor
Underwear Color Size sizecolor

As you can see for the different subcategories in clothing on Amazon, the most common choices are Color, Size, and sizecolor. As you might guess, sizecolor is a 2nd level variation that varies on both Size and Color. So your choices for a listing in this category are to do no variations, variations just on the Color property, variations on just the Size property, or variations on both the Color and Size properties. Here is an example product with both Color and Size:

amazon variation with color and size

Reasons to use variations on Amazon

To sell an item using variations on Amazon, you create a parent listing that is a shell of a listing, with only the most basic fields (such as Category), and the property you are going to vary on, for example size, filled out. Then you create one or more child listings pointing back to the parent listing. In these child listings you specify a different value for the property, such as size, so Amazon is able to properly display your variations. Why is this helpful to use variations when selling on Amazon?

  • Reviews - Reviews for all variations are combined. It looks much better to have one listing with 600 reviews compared to many listings with 10 reviews.
  • Customer Convenience - If a customer makes it to the page of your listing on Amazon, they already have a reasonable chance of buying it. What might make them leave is the item not being exactly right - for example being in red when they want blue. If you use a variation on color for this listing, the red and blue are both visible and both selectable. If you instead had listed your products as separate listings, the customer would need to leave the product page to see other options - and possibly find a competitor.

Reasons to skip variations on Amazon

There are times where you can set up many different listings, and ignore the variation feature of Amazon. For example you could list a 3 foot and a 6 foot network cable as separate items, instead of variations of the same item.

  • Cost - You don't pay per listing on Amazon. If you have 100 listings or 1000, the cost to list is the same. So there is no financial incentive to combine listings.
  • Inflexibility - You can only vary exactly how Amazon supports it. If you want to vary on another property, you are out of luck. For example in clothing, a common property to vary on is Style, but style is not supported for clothing on Amazon except for costumes.

Variations on Shopify

Shopify does also support variations out of the box. You have a free-form text field to enter the name of the property, such as size and color. You may choose to vary by up to 3 properties (3rd level variation), as long as the total number of variations add up to no more than 100. When using 3rd level variations, remember that they add up quick. For example 5 colors and 5 fabrics and 5 sizes are a total of 5 x 5 x 5 = 125 variations, which is greater than the Shopify 100 variation limit.

Shopify variant screenshot

Variations on Shopify are generally very flexible, and worth using. Each variation can have it's own SKU, price, weight, title, and 1 image associated with it. The main reason to not use variations at Shopify is if you need many unique images because a variation is so different, or if you need more than a 100 of the same product.

Variations on Etsy

Etsy does offer support for variations, but in many ways it feels more limited than on other channels. Etsy offers support out of the box for the following predefined variation properties:

  • Color
  • Device
  • Dimensions
  • Diameter
  • Fabric
  • Finish
  • Flavor
  • Height
  • Length
  • Material
  • Pattern
  • Scent
  • Size
  • Style
  • Weight
  • Width

In addition, you can create two custom variation properties, such as adding Necklace Style to a pendant listing. Some of these properties also allow you to select a qualifier, for example Weight gives you the choice between Pounds, Ounces, Grams, and Kilograms.

Etsy variation setting

Advantages of Etsy Variations

Although variations are limited on Etsy compared to many other platforms, they do still have some advantages.

  • Cost: Etsy listings cost $.20 per listing. This means making 100 listings would cost $20, whereas one listing with 100 variations would only cost $0.20
  • Feedback: Like many other platforms, feedback is combined by variation. It is always better to show an item having 100 reviews, over a bunch of items having 3 reviews

Challenges of Variations on Etsy

Variations are definitely challenging on Etsy. Some of the most common complaints include:

  • Quantity Tracking: Incredibly, you are only allowed to set a quanity at the listing level. So if you have 2 Medium dresses and 3 Large dresses for sale, you have to put 5 as your listing quantity. When a specific variation sells out you are allowed to mark it out of stock - but only at the property level. For example if you sell Red and Blue dresses in Small and Large, and sell out of Red-Small dresses, there is no way to mark them as out of stock. You would either need to mark all Red dresses out of stock, or all Small dresses out of stock.
  • Shipping: Shipping price, for flat rate shipping, and shipping rate, for calculated shipping, is only allowed at the listing level. So if you selling a statue either made out of Styrofoam or Lead, what do you set the shipping weight and cost at? You can attempt to include this in the price, because a variation on Etsy is allowed to have a different price, but this makes international shipping very complicated.

Multichannel Variation Final Thoughts

Variations are a very handy feature when selling online, and using them correctly on each channel is vital to your success. Does your current multichannel management software support variations on all platforms? Does it allow you to list one product on Amazon with variations, but list that same item on Shopify without variations? Explore this and other features at the Listing Mirror, or Sign Up for a free trial. If you have any questions, please feel free to Contact Us.


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