Magento - Understanding Configurable Products and Simple Products

All products in Magento have a range of features, details and figures such as Price, SKU, Size, Stock Level, Weight, Colours etc. Within the Magento administration system, these features are known as “Attributes”.

These attributes can be grouped together to create “Attribute Sets”. This is important when adding products to Magento, because depending on your product range, you may well have multiple Attribute Sets for different products.

If you are selling footwear for example, you may have attribute sets for Running Shoes, Cross Trainers and Smart Shoes. The attributes for running shoes is most likely different from smart shoes, so different Attribute Sets will be created to reflect those groups of features.

If you have a product that has variable options – such as size or colour, Magento calls these products “Configurable Products”. Take shoes for example – you may have one design that comes in three sizes (small, medium and large) and two colour options (black and white).

In a “bricks and mortar” shop, you would have six products and stock levels of each:

SKU Colour Size Stock Level
SHOE-BS Black Small 6
SHOE-BM Black Medium 2
SHOE-BL Black Large 1
SHOE-WS White Small 8
SHOE-W M White Medium 4
SHOE-WL White Large 0

As a customer, you don’t see all six variations on display but just one example and you ask for the size and colour you want. This saves the customer from being overwhelmed by options (imagine a product with 300 variations). As a shop manager, this makes it easy to keep track of stock levels.

Magento replicates this “ask for your colour and size” system by providing the visitor with one “parent” product with selectable (“Configurable”) options for all variations. This means that your category pages aren’t bloated with hundreds of product variations.

So, taking the shoe example above, our “Configurable Product” has six “child” products (known in Magento as “Simple Products”). Each Simple Product has its own configuration of features (known as “attributes”).

Configurable and Simple Product Illustration

The image illustrates the six “child” Simple Products which are responsible for providing the “parent” Configurable Product all of its options. So if “SHOE-BS” (small black shoe) goes out of stock, that product combination won’t be available to purchase.
By creating “child” Simple Products, you are given complete control over the configuration including stock levels, images, price variations and more – depending on the product and your requirements.

Bulk Importing Products Using Excel

Whilst it is possible to create Configurable and Simple Products from within the Magento interface, bulk creation is quicker with a spreadsheet editor such as Excel (in fact, any CSV editor will work).

GCM eCommerce can provide a sample spreadsheet for your specific requirements, but the overall procedure is this:

  1. Create all “child” Simple Product Variations
  2. Create “Parent” Configurable Product
  3. Link the “child” Simple Products to the “parent” Configurable Product

GCM eCommerce will create a specific spreadsheet for your product range, along with a PDF guide on how to use a csv to import products into Magento. We will support you throughout the process, explaining the process and ensuring you understand what is happening at every stage.