Overview of Complex Products

Magento provides several built-in product types that allow you to accommodate many of the most common products a merchant would sell without much customization.

This article provides an overview of complex products.


A product record in your Magento Go catalog has many components. To give you a better understanding of this concept, think about how you’d describe a product — let’s start with a Polar Bear shirt as an example. You might also be selling Black Bear and Brown Bear shirts. At this point, we could safely say that we sell shirts— there is something important about this. We’ll call it a category. Is there one absolute type of Polar Bear shirt?

You probably sell them in small, medium, and large. You’re not going to just sell this shirt in blue, because some people absolutely love their Polar Bear shirts in red. At this point we are describing shirt colors and shirt sizes. Wait a minute though — the jackets, pants and sweaters we sell also come in various sizes and colors.

There’s a name for this trend — these things are called attributes. Together, they compose an attribute set that we could probably apply altogether on various types of apparel. And that shirt, that’s a type of apparel — a subcategory within a category.

In general, you need to think of building up the pieces to create your products. If all you’re selling is White Pony T-Shirts, it’s certainly overkill to create an apparel category, or a shirts subcategory — these categories don’t differentiate the products any further.

On the other hand, if you’re selling various sizes and colors of White Pony T-Shirts, it doesn’t make much business sense to flood your catalog with dozens of these t-shirts when they”re only differentiated from each other by size or color. Complex products help you apply these business rules to your products so that your Magento store is neat and orderly.

The core building blocks of complex products are attributes and simple products.

Product Attributes

All products have attributes. These can be common across all products, like price, or specific to certain types of products, like size, color, or amount of memory. Magento lets you define general product attributes as well as custom attributes.

To learn how to create and manage product attributes, read Defining Attributes.

Attribute Sets

Attribute sets group attributes together so they can be used across products. In general, an attribute set will group all the attributes that will be used for a type of product. For example, the types of attributes used across men’s shirts will likely be the same — but will be different from the attributes used for jewelry or electronics. An attribute set is the group of “who what where when why” questions used to describe a product.

If you were to describe a hard drive, you’d want to know the storage capacity, its rotations per minute, and whether its internal or external. That said — you wouldn’t care to know the storage capacity or RPM’s of household furniture because, well, that would be weird. This is essentially what attribute sets can be thought of as.

To learn how to create and manage attribute sets, read Creating Attribute Sets.


Magento supports a wide range of products. A simple product is the most fundamental product type — it is what all other product types are based on. They represent the products that you actually ship (items that are accounted for with Stock Keeping Units (SKUs)).

A simple product would be a Large size Orange Magento Shirt — we keep track of how many of these we have. A separate simple product would be our Medium size Orange Magento Shirt — we keep a separate count of the inventory of these. Together, these simple products can be grouped together into more complex products types. What’s more, if we decide to sell Magento shirts with Magento pants, we might want to sell these separate simple products together in a bundle.

Alternatively, you may not want to keep separate count of your Orange Magento Shirts and White Magento Shirts because you purchase them when the customer places the order. In this case you may simply want to create a Configurable Product.

To learn more about product types and how to create them, read How to Create New Products.

Recommended Flow

The best way to approach the products in your catalogs is by establishing a workflow, or a sequence of connected steps to create a product.

First, it’s important to determine what you’re going to be selling. If your store will consist only of clothing, then you may want to describe each type of product more narrowly — such as t-shirts, sweaters, and pants.

This will give you a better idea of what categories and subcategories you may want to create. It’s best to determine and create your product categories before adding products to your catalog. Alternatively, if your store consists of a single category item, or a single item for that matter, you would skip this step.

For a given type of product, create the attributes that will be used to define this product. For electronics, these attributes may consist of storage space, speed, battery size, and physical dimensions. For apparel, these attributes would include size, material, gender, and color.

After creating the attributes, group them into an attribute set.

Create the parent product and save it. You will then be able to use the appropriate shared attributes for the simple product that represent the different SKUs.

Create the SKUs and add them to the parent product.

It’s important to understand that these are the components of a product. Simple products can be as complex as your business rules need them to be. You want to understand how to create and manage categories and product attributes to differentiate and manage your catalog.

Attribute sets can make your life easier and logical categories will create a more usable shopping experience for your customer.


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