Maximizing Product Options Functionality

It’s no secret that people love variety. In all likelihood, your store contains at least a few products that come in multiple colors, sizes, or configurations. Fortunately, Volusion offers a robust system for creating and applying product options. Read on to learn more!

Show and Tell: Option Display Types

When configuring your option categories, you have the opportunity to select how options in that category will display. If you’re creating a “Size” option category, for example, you may want the sizes—S, M, L, XL—to display in a different way from options in the “Color” option category. As both a consumer and a merchant, you’re probably most familiar with seeing options presented in dropdown menus—but you can also show product options as radio buttons, checkboxes, and even text boxes. Depending on the number and type of options offered for a particular product, certain display types may create a better shopping experience than others.

Dropdown menus are practical and familiar to customers, and save space on the product page compared to other option display types. For this reason, dropdowns work well for items with multiple option categories applied. Let’s say you’re selling a candle that comes in seven different scents, three different sizes, and two container types (clear glass or decorative tin). It might be overwhelming to show all of these options to customers in a list; but when divided into separate dropdowns for scent, size, and container, the options seem more manageable and customers can focus on one selection at a time. If you decide to display your options in dropdown menus, you’ll need to decide between the standard dropdown display type and the Dropdown Smartmatch display type. For further information, read the “Child Products and the Inventory Control Grid” section of this article below.

Radio buttons are a great option display type for products with a single option category. If you’re selling the candle described above, but you only offer different scents (not different sizes or containers), radio buttons might provide a better shopping experience. Customers can still only select a single option, but instead of having to click a dropdown menu to view the available choices, they’ll be able to see all options listed at the same time.

Check box options can be incredibly useful as well, particularly for product add-ons that customers must opt in to. For example, if you offer a stereo system with an available extended warranty, you can set the “Extended Warranty” option to display as the only option in a check box option category. Your customers can check the box to add the extended warranty, or they can leave the box unselected to decline the warranty. Note that the binary (“yes/no”) nature of this type of option means that an option category with the check box display type can only support one option. If you need to create several check box options for a product, you can create multiple option categories that use the check box display type, then assign one option to each option category.

What if your store offers customization for specific products? It would be a pain to have to create a product variation for every possible customization available. There’s a solution for that! If your products require customer input before purchasing, textbox options are a great choice. Let’s say you sell tote bags that can be monogrammed. By adding a textbox option titled “Monogram” or “Your Initials”, you’re providing an easy way for customers to specify what they want on the shirt. You can even limit the number of characters allowed in a textbox option field—a three character limit for a monogram, for example—so that customers can’t accidentally request more customization than you offer. If you set a character limit, be sure to note the limit in the product description, the option category description, or the option name itself (“Initials: 3 Letters Max”).

Behind the Scenes: Advanced Tools and Inventory Management

Now that you’ve learned about the basic option display types, let’s take a look at some of the more advanced options settings. These features will help you manage inventory for specific product variants, tie a specific option to an existing product’s inventory, and even change the price of a product based on the options selected.

Child Products and the Inventory Control Grid

You may carry certain products for which inventory management is critical. For example, let’s say you offer a shirt that comes in five sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL) and three different colors (black, blue, red). In order to fulfill your customers’ orders, you’ll need to know whether you have available stock for specific variants, such as a blue shirt in XS or a red shirt in L. This is where Volusion’s Inventory Control Grid comes in.

Within each product’s editing page, you’ll see an Enable Options Inventory Control checkbox below the list of the product’s currently applied options. When you select this option and save, your store will automatically create additional products to represent each variation. The above shirt that comes in five sizes and three colors would become 16 separate products: 15 “child products”, for which stock is tracked, and one “parent product” that controls the product page listing your customers see. Now you can monitor and update the stock status for each product variant, based on the combined size and color options. Whenever customer purchases a medium shirt in blue, that specific child product’s inventory will decrease by one unit.

Note that customers won’t automatically be able to determine which variants are out of stock. If you use the standard “Dropdown” option display type, customers can still select an option combination for a child product that’s unavailable. Upon attempting to add this item to the shopping cart, the customer will be notified that the item is out of stock. To prevent the frustration of this experience, we’d recommend using the Dropdown Smartmatch display type instead. This feature works in conjunction with the Inventory Display Grid, and only displays option combinations that are available. Customers must select from a specific option category first (such as “Color”) before they can select from the next sequential option category (such as “Size”). If you’re currently out of the blue shirt in medium, for example, a customer could select “blue” from the first drop-down, but the size “medium” would not display in the second drop-down. When using this feature for a specific product, all option categories applied to the product must be set to use the Dropdown Smartmatch display type before generating child products.

The standard “Dropdown” option display type works well when you don’t need to track stock for specific product variants. If you drop ship all your products from a third party provider, or if you create all products on demand and don’t maintain a surplus, the Dropdown display type may still be an ideal choice for your option categories.

Products as Options

When creating an option, there are a few fields you can use to tie that option to other products in your inventory. One such hidden gem is the Is Product Code field, which allows you link a specific option with another product entirely by entering the associated product code. When a customer selects this option and clicks Add to Cart, both the original product and the product you assign to that option will be added. Here’s a use case example: if you’re selling an electronic device that also requires batteries, you can create the electronic device and the batteries as separate products in your store. If a customer selects the “Add Batteries” option when adding the electronic device to their cart, the product code for batteries will be added as well.

Unless you’re offering the batteries for free, be sure to indicate the price as part of the option title (for example, “Add 4 AA Batteries for $2.00?”). If you want to offer the batteries for free, but you want to track stock for them, you can price your batteries product at $0.00. Then you can hide the product from your storefront in order to minimize the risk of other customers purchasing it without the electronic device.

You’ll also notice a field called Jump to Product Code, which is fairly similar to the Is Product Code feature. While the former setting adds two products to the cart simultaneously, Jump to Product Code substitutes the original product with the product code you inserted into this field. This is useful if you sell products that have multiple editions or versions.

For more information on Jump to Product Code and Is Product Code functionality, click here.

Special Options with Price Differences

The Option Price Difference field can be incredibly handy if a few of your options are slightly more expensive. For example, maybe you sell shirts that come in sizes S through XXL and want to charge $2.00 more for the XXL size. Or perhaps you sell a piece of jewelry that comes in a silver tone or a (more expensive) gold tone. Use the Option Price Difference field to enter a dollar difference, and voila! Customers will see the option price difference when viewing the options on the product page. Note that you can also include an Update Price button on product pages that contain options with price differences. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a variety of ways to set up your product options using Volusion. No matter what you sell, from shirts to shocks to soap—there’s bound to be a perfect option configuration for you. Ready to learn more? Dive in to our Product Options knowledge base article here!