Product configurator in e-commerce

It is due to the rapidly increasing number of online traded product areas that the wish for the greatest possible individualization of a product continuously grows. Still, the usage of a product configurator is not always necessary. In this article I want to talk about the border area where the use of a software solution like the product configurator is advisable.

I will firstly define the exact meaning of the term: “product configuration in online trading”, because of the fact that there is more than one meaning to the term. I will furthermore try to show when it is the right time to use this software solution and lastly how the product configurator becomes an additional value for the supplier, trader, manufacturer or service provider.


What is a product configurator?

A product configurator enables you to freely combine given product components and their attributes. The rules of operation are pre-determined by the service provider. The result of individually configuring the product is a dynamic parts list that can be used as a basis to produce and commission the product.

The term: “product configurator“ is often falsely used in connection to work issues that do not really have anything in common with the basic idea of a software solution like this one. The reason for this is the fact that the standard user can choose to reduce a large range of products by using different filters. Still, this is nothing more than a standard filtration for a data pool.

The central idea of a product configurator is to present a parts list which is the final product of one´s own product configuration and is singularly created for this process. The program is not intended to do the opposite of that which is to retract an already existing part number to a parts list.The service provider does therefore not hold the not yet configured product in stock but produces and commissions it whenever a customer wishes to do so.

In the following paragraph I want to further show that simply choosing attribute values, accessory products for a main product or even the input of individual extra information by the user cannot be called: “configuration of a product”. I also want to try to define a core area that correctly represents the idea of an individual configuration of a product.


Product type pyramid

The way to the product configurator
Chart. 1

The fundament of this model of a pyramid is an individually stocked or stock-free product which is the basis for any business in online trading (Chart. 1; Level 1). The highest possible product complexity can be found at the top: The individual configuration of a product.

Based on the first level, different branches (especially the textile industry) started to use any kind of product attributes. Products of which different variants are physically stored in the warehouse are bundled together to one main product variant. The exact variant is then determined by the customer using freely selectable attributes (Chart. 1; Level 2).

Produktbeispiel mit Attributen, Zubehörartikeln und einer individuellen Eingabe.
Abb. 2

The next step almost brings us to the usage of the product configurator software. The customer is given the opportunity to add more accessory products to a product which (as appropriate) can be determined more precisely by adding selected attributes.

In so doing, the accessories are not in any way interdependent with the main product. This means that the user can choose none or specific accessory products independent of his chosen attribute values. In addition, a piece of information highlighted by the user can be linked to the product, if necessary (Chart 2).

Although the customer might already conceive a bit of what true individualization is by now, this is still not what a product configurator can do. (Chart 1 Level 3) To call a software solution a product configurator (like already defined here) the service provider has to offer a setting by which the user can assemble single product components from predefined categories to a complete configuration (cf. rules”) as well as a unique parts list that is the result of an individual configuration of a product.

In other words: A product configurator fully automatically checks if the configuration the user wants is realizable in production and commissioning, in the background, in real-time.


Does my product need a product configurator software?

Though it might be impossible to answer this question precisely without having any extra information about the product itself I would like to highlight 2 main features of the product configurator to probably answer this basic Yes-No question, beforehand.

Feature 1: The sum of all variants

Let´s pretend you were a carpenter and would produce individually designed doors for your customers. You´d therefore offer freedom to individually customize a product. Your customers could choose between 5 different types of wood, 10 selectable colors as well as 4 different strengths of wood. Mathematically speaking that would be 5*10*4=200 possibilities to choose from. Taking this result into account, it would be possible to have all these different variants of products in stock, each with an article number of its own though it wouldn´t be an economically wise decision. Let´s therefore implement more possibilities of individualizing the product by adding more choice. We´ll add 7 different doorknobs, 4 types of related material, and a security lock. This results in 5+10+4+7+2=11200 possible combinations. This simple example shows that it is impossible to maintain every single variant of a product. Free input values are not taken into account for this example (e.g. the input of 2 measurements to determine the proportions of a door). To summarize the content: The higher the number of possible product variants, the more essential is the usage of a product configurator.

Feature 2: Already existing interlinks

Imagine you would sit at the “round table” with a customer who wishes to buy your product. You intend to write down his wishes on a piece of paper concerning the product that is to be created. To do so, you are going to talk about every individually adaptable part and feature. You will also ask your future customer to freely describe his idea of the final product.Now try to answer the following question: Would you have to change the course of your conversation at any time because there are predetermined rules and dependencies between product components that have to be taken into account while individualizing the product? If you cannot answer this question with “no” you will really have to use a product configurator since it is the only way to offer your customer every possibility of individualizing the product fully automatic on the internet. The product attributes, accessory products and user input (Chart.1; Level 1-3) described in section 2 will not offer any ways to build up links and rules for individualizing the product, by themselves.


What are the central benefits of a product configurator?

In the previous sections of this post you have been introduced to information about the product configurator and its potential for your business. Many benefits arise from using a product configurator since you cannot offer the necessary degree of individualization without it. I would like to highlight two central benefits, now:

  • The product configurator will save you time! It takes on the role of an intermediary between your customer and your product. Now you don´t need to arrange individually designed orders by having a personal interview with your customer, yourself. In addition to that, the result of configuring the product (the parts list) can be passed on directly to the production facilities or warehouse for commissioning, since the product configurator already checked on the correctness of the order.
  • The second great benefit is the distinction from competitors and an overall positive vibe your customers will be able to embrace. The dynamics, speed and power of the product configurator will lead your customer to look at your product more closely because these benefits will let the customer identify himself with his very own individually designed product. The customer becomes a part of the developing process- on eye level with your company.

This article hopefully gave you a little bit of insight on the necessity and added value of using a software solution like the product configurator. Have you recognized yourself and your product at some place in this article? Then do not hesitate to contact me. I will try to find the best possible solution to your problem.

Thank you for your time and stay curious!