Questions about variations are one of the most common questions we get on EcomCrew Premium. In this post, I am going to explain EXACTLY how variations on Amazon work and when and how you should use them.
Also check out: E369: Develop Winning Products Using the Cockroach Method
How Variations Display in Search Results
How variations display and rank is dependent on the product category.
Clothing, Accessories & Luggage, Sporting Goods, and Beauty categories display the best-selling parent products in search results. For every other category, the BEST SELLING variation is shown.
Notice the differences below. Both the kids’ magnet set and soccer ball have multiple relationships but for the magnets, the top-selling variation is shown and for the soccer ball the parent description is shown.
It should be noted that Amazon documentation simply says [in most categories] “the best selling variation is shown in search results”. Amazon will show variations that ARE NOT the best seller in certain circumstances, i.e. when there are specific keywords used. For example, the 120 piece version of the kids’ magnet set is used for almost all keywords. However, when we add the keyword modifier “150 piece” the 150 piece version is shown.
How Variations Display on Product Detail Pages
Once again, how product detail pages display variation information is dependent on the product category. For Clothing, Accessories & Luggage, Sporting Goods, and Beauty product detail information does not change regardless of which variation is selected. For all other categories, the information from the variation selected is shown.
Reviews Normally Pool Across Variations
For the most part, Amazon pools reviews across all variations. No matter what variation is selected all reviews show up. If a variation goes out of stock, the reviews still show up.
In 2018, for certain products, Amazon started splitting reviews to individual variations as opposed to pooling them all together for all variations of a parent. This only affected certain products and was somewhat erratic. If this has happened to your products, often you can request Seller Central to merge the reviews again.
Should you create separate listings or parent-child variations?
Amazon specifies when to create a parent-variation relationship as follows:
- When two products only differ in a few, specific ways
- When you have attribute options (such as size or color) for the same product
- When customers would expect to find these products together on a single product detail page
- When the products could share the same title
The other time when you should probably use variations is when a product has limited independent search volume. This is especially true for accessories and add-ons of your products, i.e. you sell a garlic press carrying bag.
When launching a new SKU, often sellers consider piggybacking on one of their existing successful SKUs to hopefully get a headstart on their new SKU. I’ll show below why this is normally not a good idea.
Sales Velocity Does Not Pool Across Variations
Often sellers have logic as follows:
If I have two products that each sell 200 units a day and create a variation relationship, then I will have a product that sells 400 units a day cumulatively! Unfortunately this logic does not appear to be true.
The general consensus is that, for the most part, parent ASINs do not have significant rankings. Rankings are tied to each individual variation. In my experience, I wouldn’t say that Amazon does not consider total cumulative sales at all, but I would say it’s a case where 10+10 doesn’t equal 20 but rather 10 + 10 equals 11.
Piggybacking on an Unrelated Product Is a Bad Idea
Here’s a common predicament: You’re launching a new product. You have a nicely selling existing product that is similar to the new product but a clear variation of it. Should you list the new product as a variation of the existing product to get some of its juice?
Let’s examine what will happen:
The new product will appear to have a lot of reviews when customers go to the product detail page.
The new product will not appear in organic search results (only the best selling variation will, i.e. the existing top-selling product).
The new product will not get transferred the sales velocity of the existing product and rank higher for keywords.
The rough conclusion is that the only real benefit of piggybacking a SKU is to get increased trust from buyers assuming the new variation has positive reviews. It does not help search rankings.
When two unrelated items are in a parent-child relationship, one item is going to dominate the search results and therefore sales.
The only time it makes sense to piggyback on an existing unrelated item with lots of reviews is when you no longer sell that existing item or you intend to stop selling that existing item. This strategy can sometimes be black-hat which I’ll explain in the aside box below.
Creating a parent-child relationship between two unrelated items is normally a bad idea as one item will dominate the search results (and therefore sales) of that relationship. But what if you don’t care about one of those items?
Imagine you previously had a nicely selling garlic press. It had 500 reviews and a rating of 4.8 stars but you’ve stopped selling garlic presses long ago because it’s no longer profitable.
Now you start selling nutcrackers.
You could merge your new nutcracker variation with your old garlic press listing. It will now appear that your nutcracker has 500 reviews and help your conversion rate. Plus, the nutcracker listing will show up in search results because the garlic press listing is out of stock.
This strategy can work very effectively. This strategy is so effective that a lot of sellers, especially in China, are finding zombie listings of inactive SKUs to piggyback on.
This strategy can be deceitful to buyers and it can also get you in trouble with Amazon so be warned.
How to Split Variations and Merge Listings
You can create variations fairly simply using the Variation Wizard web tool within Seller Central.
However, splitting variations from an existing parent-child relationship and/or combining separate existing listings into a new parent-child relationship is something that needs either a support ticket to Seller Support or the use of flat files.
I’d prefer to bang my head repeatedly against a concrete wall than deal with Seller Support so I strongly advocate the use of Flat Files.
Splitting Variations from an Existing Parent-Child Relationship
To split listings from an existing parent-child relationship you need to delete the parent SKU. This will separate all of the listings. As far as I know, there is no way to separate out individual listings.
- Generate the flat-file template for the existing parent-child relationship using either an existing flat-file or downloading the template using the Variation Wizard (go to Seller Central -> Inventory->Add a Product).
- Under the Update_Delete field, set the parent SKU to DELETE. Set the variations to UPDATE if you have all relevant fields populated (i.e. description, bullet points) or PARTIAL UPDATE if you do not. See below.
Merging Existing Listings into a New Parent-Child Relationship
- Download the Category Template (Seller Central -> Add Products via Upload).
- Create a new Parent on the top row. Give it any facetious SKU. No UPC/EAN/etc. is needed.
- Add children under it. These are existing products so include the SKU and UPCs of the existing listings. Fill in the parentage as shown in columns T-U-V-W below. Set the Update_Delete field to update for the variations you are adding.
This should answer every question you have about variations on Amazon. Do you have any other questions or comments about variations? Comment below.
Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He’s also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.