When you sell a product on Amazon that comes in multiple versions (for example, varying quantities, sizes, colours, designs or flavours), the question arises of whether or not you should use variations or list each item separately.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using variations on Amazon? In this post, I’ll try to answer these questions in detail and help you make the right decision for your Amazon FBA business.
Now, Amazon doesn’t work like eBay where you create a product listing and then add variations to it. On Amazon, each variation is an individual listing anyways, which sort of complicates the situation even more. As a starting point, I recommend you check out Amazon’s quick guide on how variations work before you decide which way to go for your products.
But the main idea is that, on Amazon, you simply “link” products to create a listing with variations. The main listing is called the PARENT listing and the variations are called CHILD listings. You create the parent listing and then link your child listings to it. To better understand how it all works, here’s explanation right from the Amazon’s help page:
Parent listing: The product listing is a non-buyable entity used to relate child products
The listing displayed only in the Seller Central’s search results. Amazon catalogue uses the parent listing to establish relationships between the child products. For example, if two shirts have the same parent, then they are related and are considered child products.
Child products: The products that are related to each parent listing
The child product is an instance of the parent product. You can have many child products that are all related to one parent product. Each child varies in some way, for example, by size or by colour.
Variation theme: The relationship between the parent and the child
The variation theme defines how related products differ from each other. Depending on the category chosen to list your products, variation themes also vary. For example, in the Clothing, Accessories & Luggage category, child products can differ from each other by size or colour, or package quantity; and child listings in Pet Supplies category can differ in flavour, scent, quantity etc.
Not all categories on Amazon allow variations, and the rules are even different across Amazon’s various regional websites. However, in general, if the product often comes in variations, Amazon will allow you to create them if you want to.
Yes, Amazon does not actually require us to do this. Variations on Amazon are optional, so you, as a seller, can decide if you want to use them or not.
On eBay, for example, it is part of the website’s rules that items with variations must be kept together under one listing so as not to flood the search results. If you don’t follow this rule on eBay, you may get hit by the Duplicate Listing rule, which can negatively affect your listing’s search visibility.
But on Amazon, as I already explained, each variation will have its own listing anyways, so if you don’t want to use variations, that’s fine. However, you have to understand that in many cases, the use of variations on Amazon will actually help you increase your sales (and thus make more money), so you shouldn’t take this lightly—especially if your product is HIGHLY suitable for the use of variations.
There are two main benefits of using variations on Amazon:
- Conversion rates. This is the most important thing to consider. If, from the customer’s perspective, your product can be listed with variations, and if that increases the conversion rate, you should do it. Amazon’s whole game is based on “making customers happy”, so if customers want to select a variation of your product from a single page, you should do so—and Amazon will reward you for it!
- Reviews. When you have a parent-child listing with variations, all of the reviews from those variation sales will be shown together on the listing page for ALL variations. So, for example, if your black variation has 10 reviews and the white variation has 20 reviews, Amazon will show all 30 reviews for all of the variation listings of that product, including in the search results, which can really help boost your click-through rate from the search results, as well as further increase your conversion rates (because people feel more confident buying from more established listings with a higher number of reviews).
As you can see, using variations can really impact your business on Amazon in a positive way.
Are there any downsides/negatives?
Yes, there is a downside. When you use variations on Amazon, only ONE of the listings/variations will show up in the search results!
Which one? If the keyword doesn’t specify the variation, Amazon will show the most popular variation listing/image in the search results. If the search phrase contains keywords that describe your variation, Amazon most likely will feature that variation listing in the search results.
On the other hand, if you have all variations listed separately without the parent-child relationship, then in theory, multiple listings of yours could show up in the search results at the same time, giving you more real estate and greater chances of getting that click and sale.
This doesn’t affect Sponsored Product ads, though. You can still run these ads (as many as you want) for any variation you have, and they will all show up in the search results with the organic results.
But the question still remains: should you always use variations for products that have them? The answer highly depends on the product you sell, so let’s cover some of the most popular scenarios.
Without a doubt, this is the easiest situation. If you sell something that comes in various sizes and Amazon allows variations for it, DO IT! You will greatly improve the customer’s shopping experience and your conversion rates. Any clothing items or similar products are perfect for this. The added benefit of this is that the main image that shows up in the search results is, in most cases, irrelevant to the sizing information, so your CTR from the search results shouldn’t suffer at all.
As an added tip: make sure you have detailed sizing information available on your listings. Ideally, you should become Brand Registered so that you can use A+ Content, which has pre-built design blocks/tables to display sizing information in a visually appealing way. Not only will this increase your conversion rates, but it will also lower returns if you do a good job explaining the sizing information and help people to select the right size for them.
Just like with sizes, products that you sell in various quantities are perfect for variations. The biggest advantage here is that many customers may actually “upgrade” to a larger sized pack once they see the option for it in your listing. If you don’t use variations, they may never even see your other listings for different quantities.
I know for myself that I often opt for a bigger pack of something, especially if the price per unit is lower. So, make sure you build that added incentive into your listings by offering a good discount on larger quantities.
If the only differentiator between your product variations is the colour, I would still recommend you use variations for it.
Yes, many people will search for a specific colour, but don’t forget that Amazon will show the child listing in the search results that cover that product (if you have properly optimized your listings), so there are no downsides. Plus, you get the benefit of all reviews showing up on all variation listings. PLUS, it could be that the customer hasn’t yet decided which colour they want. So, if you present them with multiple options/variations, you may actually increase the likelihood of getting a sale as some people will choose a different colour than the one they initially searched for.
For buyers who search for generic keywords without specifying the colour, Amazon will show your bestselling variation, which should be the most popular one.
Now, of course, this will decrease the CTR for customers with a search intent different to your bestseller. For example, they might search for the keyword “desk lamp” already knowing that they want it to be a white colour but your bestseller is the black variation and that’s the one that shows up in the search results. That customer will most likely click on listings that have the lamp in WHITE in the main image, and you can’t do anything about that.
If you feel that such searches account for a large portion of your overall traffic in your niche, you may consider listing items separately and not using variations.
This will mostly relate to food items. For example, if you sell flavoured stevia drops, should you use variations or not? If you ask me, you should, because very often:
- People are indecisive about the flavours they want. It could be that they search for vanilla and end up buying the strawberry flavour (or something else) instead;
- People will buy multiple flavours! If you have them all listed under one listing, you will greatly increase the chances of other items being purchased at the same time.
The same rules could be applied to products that have different scents, such as candles. People may not know exactly what flavour/scent they want to buy at the time of the search, so it’s best to give them all of the available options under the same listing.
Now, this is a scenario where lots of sellers make a mistake by listing various designs under the same listing as variations. For example, let’s say you sell bedding sets and have ten different designs. In this case, you don’t want to use variations because you want to showcase all your designs individually (as many as possible) in the search results.
When searching for a bedding set, buyers will often have no clue what kind of design they want! They will simply browse through the search results trying to find a design that they like and only then click on the listing. If you have just one listing featured in the search results, with just one design, your chances of getting that click are very slim.
Obviously, the benefit of having all those reviews aggregated under one listing is great, especially if you have LOTS of variations and each listing has very few reviews, but don’t forget about the lost opportunity/real estate in the search results. Your competitors will have multiple search positions with various designs displayed as main images, while you will only have one: your bestseller.
Bundles/kits/versions of a product
Lastly, you may think it’s a great idea to create a parent/child relationship with products that are somehow related to each other.
For example, you sell widget A, widget B, and a set that is made up of widget A and B bundled together. In theory, this sounds like a good plan, but it’s not. Amazon prohibits such use of variations for products that are only related to each other and that do not have a clear variation difference, like size, colour, design, etc.
If you do this, don’t blame me if you get your account suspended. Yes, I know that there are people who do this and get away with it just fine, but I personally don’t like to play games like this with my account. I always try to stay on the safe side. Basically, an activity like this is treated as review manipulation since you’re effectively selling different items under one listing to increase your review count, which is a big no-no!
These are the most common situations I can think of. If I have left something out, please leave a comment below the post and I will personally reply to you within 24 hours, Monday to Friday.
The main idea to keep in mind here is to ALWAYS think about things from the customer’s perspective!
You have to imagine that you’re shopping for the product yourself. Think about the buying process, the search process and what keywords you would use as a buyer of this product. Based on that information, decide if variations will ultimately help or hurt your product sales.
Keywords are also super important here. I recommend you always use a keyword research tool, such as Jungle Scout, to get keyword data for your specific product. If you see that there are LOTS of searches for each individual variation of the product, it may be better to list them separately. On the other hand, if most searches are generic, describing the product and not the variations, you should definitely list them all under one parent listing to make the most out of the aggregated reviews and increased conversion rates.
If you don’t use variations but know that customers may like to pick a different product from your range, it’s a good idea to ADVERTISE your other products on your OWN listings using the Placement ads feature. Amazon will also often show your other products on your product listings, but with Placement ads, you can cover even more real estate and push out competitors who may also be advertising on your listing using an Auto campaign or manual Placement ads.
And that’s it for today. If you would like to learn more about how to start a successful Amazon FBA business in the UK, please check out my Amazon Sharks training program. In more than 20 hours of immersive video lessons, you can learn this game from A to Z! You will also get my personal support and lifetime updates for free!
In addition to that, I also run a Facebook group that is open to anyone interested in Amazon FBA businesses. Feel free to join the group here and ask any questions you may have, learn from other Amazon sellers and stay updated on the latest Amazon news!