What are Simple and Configurable Products?
Catalogs of an eCommerce site are typically made up of two types of products: simple and configurable. Simple products are those with no additional specifications or options, such as size or color. Configurable products are something with attributes that can be changed and specified. For example, a site selling shoes would have shoelaces, a simple product, as well as sneakers that come in different colors and sizes, a configurable product.
Databases of eCommerce sites are most often set up with configurable products that then have specific SKUs for each variable of the product. So, a size 8 of the aforementioned sneakers would have a different SKU than a size 9. But what if your database is set up using separate simple products for each of those variables? That’s what our team encountered during a recent replatforming project.
The client was moving from a Lansa site, which takes information from IBM i and screen scrapes it into HTML, to Magento Community 1.9. They had imported all of their data as simple products. Following our shoe example, this means that the size 8 and size 9 versions of the exact same shoe were listed as completely different items, instead of variables of the same product. They wanted to set up configurable products, but they wanted to do so without deleting their existing data, which would require an import from scratch. In order to accomplish this task, Katie Conaway, an eCommerce analyst, and Jason Young, a Senior Magento Developer, came up with a process to help create and import configurable products in Magento Community 1.9.
This was a unique situation because, typically, creating a configurable product starts at the top: A top-level product is created and made configurable. An attribute set is created to contain the attributes that further define the top-level product (for example, color and size). Then the top-level product is set to point to that attribute set. Alternatively, these relationships can be set up in a CSV file and then imported.
In this situation, when the catalog was imported it contained all simple products.
One option available for this project was using an extension to help import the configurable products, which would have resulted in deleting information and starting from scratch, which the client did not want. The other option was importing items one by one in the admin panel, which would have solved the problem, but would have been tedious and incredibly time consuming. The most effective way to solve this challenge was for our team to create a custom solution.
Our Custom Solution
To avoid having to import every simple product for each configurable product, our team created a custom solution that prevented the customer from having to delete their original product list and start from scratch. Not only did this solution save time and money, it was especially beneficial for the back end system. Our team created configurable products that are associated with the appropriate simple products, then hid those simple products from view from the customer, displaying only the configurable products for purchase. All of the simple products are still visible on the back end, however, for inventory purposes. This allows the customer to maintain their inventory levels as usual while providing an updated and user-friendly UX.
While Magento often provides the means for accomplishing a task, unique situations such as this can benefit from having a team of certified developers. The right development team can not only help to avoid a nightmare eCommerce situation, but they can create innovative and time-effective solutions. Congratulations to our team and to Katie and Jason for this custom solution!
Properly executed configurable products help to improve the user experience on your site, but there are many other factors when it comes to a great UX. Ensure that your site is running at its best by maximizing site speed. Check out these tips.