Keys to an Organized Product Architecture & Inventory

March 30, 2020

In this article, we will explore how to define your product architecture, set your product categories, and identify variants.

If you are setting up a new eCommerce store, you will want to spend some time planning your product architecture. This essentially means to define the attributes of your various product types. Most products will have a title, description, price, images, categories, and variants. But, some of your products may have some unique attributes like the frame sizes for a pair of glasses you are selling.

Defining your product architecture at the start is important as it will help you to avoid rework during the implementation of the eCommerce platform, as well as allow you to prepare product information for uploading.

The first step would be to work in broad categories. This could be departments such as shoes, kids-wear, or menswear, but of course, it could be any categorization that makes sense for the products you are selling.

You will have to think horizontally and vertically to define your categories. Pants may be a category, but available in various departments such as kids or women. Pants could be further categorized down into outdoor, casual, etc. So you end up with outdoor pants for women.

But pants also come in bundles such as brands, all pants from Levis, for women, casual wear. And then they have colors, sizes, and potentially they come in a set together with a shirt and a belt that fits the color.

This process becomes more complicated when you are selling a broad range of products. A lawnmower has very different attributes compared to a pair of jeans.

As a first step, you could use mind-mapping software like SimpleMind to create a map of the various products, their attributes, and potential categories. 

This will help you identify how each product looks like and how it groups across various attributes.

The second step should be to identify how this will map to your eCommerce application. The reason for this is to see if your software requires a specific way of how you realize the relations and categorization. Most modern eCommerce systems would allow you to use tags to create multidimensional relationships between products.

You can try to set up some of the product categories on your eCommerce site to test it worksas expected.

Finally, once you have a clear picture of each product category, you can create a spreadsheet for each unique type, where you create a column for each field you require, and then fill that out with the respective information.

There are three potential scenarios you need to evaluate from here. 

  1. Are you only uploading your products to your eCommerce site, and you will manage everything there?
  2. Are you going to distribute your product information to other sites and need to syndicate your product catalog using a PMS?
  3. Do you require to load product information from your ERP for inventory syncing purposes?

In the case where you would only use your eCommerce site as the single source of truth, you can go ahead and upload your product content after configuring your product types, as explained above.

However, if you are using a PMS or ERP then you will want to create the required integrations to load your data from these systems and import them (periodically) into your eCommerce site.

Integrating your eCommerce store with your inventory system or product management system

You don't want to end up running advertising campaigns, receiving orders, or having disgruntled visitors because they are looking at products that are not available for purchase.

Pro Tip: integrate your inventory management system with your advertising campaign platform API, so ads would automatically stop running for products that are out of stock.

Of course, you would assume you always want to present something to your customers that they can buy. However, there are quite a few exceptions to this rule. Imagine you are promoting a trending product that got sold out everywhere; you would still want to receive pre-orders if possible so that when stock arrives, you can sell and ship automatically.

Potentially, you are delivering goods from various locations, especially if you are into food delivery or extending your existing retail stores.

In the case of retail stores, you may want to offer a "click and collect" service where a customer buys online, but can then pick up the item from the closest store location.

Another situation could be that you are selling products that are shipped and manufactured by someone else. In such a case, you want to integrate with the suppliers' system as well.

Your inventory management system also requires you to handle all the goods you receive back from customers in the form of returns.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do you log your inventory today? In your ERP potentially? 
  • Where is your stock located?
  • Do you have multiple warehouses or existing retail stores that require integration?
  • Do you require to send product information to other websites or affiliates?

If you are running your inventory using a basic excel sheet, then you won't need much planning around this topic as most eCommerce platforms will provide you with a good alternative for your excel sheet. But for more complicated operations, this is an important consideration to make before implementing an online store.

Read the rest of the articles from this eCommerce Business Setup Series:

4 Things That Make eCommerce Better than Traditional Retail

4 Approaches to Choosing the Right Technology for Your eCommerce

Crafting a Smooth Operational Plan for Your eCommerce Store

How to Maximize the Potential of eCommerce Analytics & Tracking

How to Align Touch points to Maximize Conversion of Your eCommerce Site

3 Proven Techniques to Increase eCommerce Conversion Using Psychology

Top Merchandising Strategies of the Biggest eCommerce Sites

Leveraging Retargeting & Automation to Increase eCommerce Conversions

Written by
Alexander Rauser
Alexander Rauser


Alexander Rauser is the author of Boardroom Guide to Digital Accountability and Digital Strategy: A Guide to Digital Business Transformation, and creator of the DSX Program, a digital strategy and transformation program for Enterprises.

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