Variety is the spice of life. Many eCommerce merchants take this sentiment to heart to keep their customers satisfied, offering multiple styles and features for the products in their stores. However, the different features or variants offered – colors, sizes, widths, etc. – can quickly add up and add unwanted complexity to the shopping experience.
You may have heard that Shopify has a 100 variant limit, which may not be enough for your store. The good news is, you can still use the Shopify Plus platform! There are several different approaches you can take to solve this issue. For our clients, we typically create a Shopify native solution that provides full inventory tracking – and we make it easy for merchants to implement and maintain it.
Variants add up fast
Even just two product variants can get you to the 100 variant limit quickly. Let’s look at an example. Say you offer a t-shirt in five sizes and 30 colors (5x30 = 150 variants). A basic work-around at this point for managing two levels of variants (color and size) is to split this one product into two products and assign 15 colors to each. This isn’t ideal, but it’s do-able and many merchants do this.
However, once you start to get more complex, offering products with three or more levels of variants, this simple fix is no longer a viable option. For example, say you offer pants with color, size and inseam length variants. Or shoes by color, size and width. You’ll blow by the 100 variant limit in no time (20 sizes x 5 colors x wide or narrow = 200 variants). Splitting one product into multiple products to accommodate variants results in a confusing shopping experience, when all the customer wants to see is one product and all of its options on one product detail page (PDP).
So, how do you fix this issue?
Sleight of hand: Making the magic happen
From a high level, here’s how it works. Your Classic T-shirt comes in 20 colors.. We create a template for separate products -- treating each color as a stand-alone product with its own URL -- by using a metafields app. We then select one master product and affiliate all the other colors (“children products”) with this master product. This approach to grouping allows us to show all t-shirt colors as click-through swatches (versus distinct products) on the PDP. On any PDP for this product, customers can easily click through colors, sizes, etc. and see the gallery photos and details, such as product availability, update automatically, while cross-product features like product description remain static.
This looks seamless to the customer because although features like the gallery photos and the “buy” box refresh for each product, we don’t reload the page (that’s the “magic” part). As far as the customer is concerned, they’re shopping for one t-shirt with 20 colors.
Here’s another example. Our client G/FORE offers golfing gloves. One of the styles, the Men’s Collection Glove, has 12 colors. You can see all 12 colors on the product landing page (PLP). However, because we set it up as 12 different products on the backend, when you click on one of the colors and go to the PDP, you’ll see all of the other 11 colors on that page as well, allowing customers to easily click through to see all colors, as well as hand sizes and hand preference (more than 300 variants).
Each color was set up as a individual product (12 colors = 12 products) and then grouped to 1 PDP via metafields + Ajax
Considering reviews and recommendations
You will also have to do some customization to get customer reviews to work properly. Because customer reviews of a product are relevant across variants like color and size, you’ll likely want the same reviews to show up no matter what variants the customer selects. For example, if three customers review the yellow golf glove, and five customers review the blue glove, then the PDP “reviews widget” needs to show a combined eight reviews. This requires making tweaks to the application you use, such as BazaarVoice or YotPo, to group customer reviews into a “review family.” Most reviews platforms have this feature and provide instructions on how to do it.
A similar tweak is needed to get product recommendations (“you might also like”) to appear across color/size variants. In addition, if you want to show color swatches under recommended products on the PDP, you’ll need a little fine-tuning of the code.
Maximizing merchandising and marketing flexibility
Although this work-around is typically implemented as a variant limit solution, it actually also provides a useful benefit for your merchandising and marketing efforts. For example, let’s say you don’t have a large catalog (e.g., 20 dresses in 10 colors). Creating separate URLs for each product enables you to choose if you want to display all 200 versions of the dresses on your product listing page (PLP)/collection page/search results page or just show the 20 dresses on the page with color swatches.
In addition, for marketing and promotions, if you want to promote only red dresses for Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to link customers to a collection page of “red dresses” or to a specific red dress product detail page.
Save time with bulk import
Although a variant work-around requires some customization, don’t worry if you have a huge product catalog – it doesn’t have to be a manual process on the backend to populate the data. It is possible to restructure many products in bulk using a third-party app like Excelify’s product import template. The app allows an admin to essentially create a spreadsheet listing all of the metafields, populate the spreadsheet with data and then bulk import it to the website.
Shopify’s variant limit is a non-issue
Despite the variant limit, Shopify Plus is still the best platform on the market for eCommerce. We strongly urge you to not let the variant limit deter you from using it. The solutions we provide to address Shopify Plus’ 100 variant limit make it easy for merchants to add as many new products and variants as they want – without needing a developer. While we think a native Shopify solution can work for most ecommerce sites, it’s not the only approach you can take. iPaaS (integration platform-as-a-service) provider VL OMNI outlines three approaches for addressing Shopify’s 100 variant limit, giving you additional options.