EP 16: Creating and Understanding Variations for Your Products on Amazon

Marketplace Blueprint: Product Marketing Strategies for Amazon
EP 16: Creating and Understanding Variations for Your Products on Amazon

Using Parent-Child Variations on Amazon

Using variations (sometimes known as twisters or parent-child listings) can help increase your sales on Amazon, lower your advertising costs, and increase your discoverability on Amazon.  In this episode, Nate and Robyn share some basic and advanced tips when it comes to variation listings including:

  • Basics about variations and why they are important
  • Understanding variation types and Amazon Terms of Service
  • Creating variations from existing listings
  • When you might be better off not using a variation listings for your products

What is a variation listing?

Variations allow related products on the same product detail page.  You can see variations being used in almost every category on Amazon.  Examples of variations you might see on Amazon are:

  • A shirt in several colors and sizes
  • Candy in three different flavors
  • Balloons in different colors

Amazon says the following about Variation Relationships:

“Variations (also known as parent-child relationships) are sets of products that are related to one another. Good variation relationship listings allow buyers to compare and choose products based on different attributes such as size, color, or other characteristics from the available options on a single product detail page.”


When you think of variations you want to think about the three components that make up that variation listing:

  • The Parent Listing: This ASIN holds no buyable inventory; it is like a clear container that holds the place for the child listings.
  • The Child Listing: You will have an ASIN for each child in the variation.  You would have one child ASIN for each variation of the product (flavor, color, size, style, etc.)
  • Variation Theme: The variation theme is the type of variation (flavor, color, size, style, etc.) that all of your products will center around.  You can only use one variation theme per Parent Listing.  However, there are variation themes that combine two different types of variation, like Size/Color, which allows you to have variations of size and color in the same parent listing.

A variation or twister listing on Amazon allows you to display related products together on one product detail page.

When you are selecting the variation theme for your product, it is crucial that you only use the variation theme for the defined purpose outlined by Amazon.  For example, using a color variation and labeling each “color” Christmas, Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s day would be a violation of Amazon’s Terms of Service and could put your account in jeopardy.

Because of abuse Amazon has been focused on eliminating manipulative behavior on Amazon with regards to variation abuse.  For more information about ASIN abuse, you can listen to the recent podcast Robyn did with Chris McCabe. Additionally, Cynthia Stine of Egrowth Partners wrote a great article that included some information about variation abuse.

Amazon is very clear about what is and what is not an appropriate variation type.   Here are some examples directly from Amazon:

Do not list items of different product designs or specific functions together:

  • Example 1: A cell phone charging cable and a portable charger, while related, are not the same product and should not be listed on the same detail page. However, products like these can be listed as bundles. To know more, see Product Bundling Policy.
  • Example 2: A laptop bag with handles and a laptop bag without handles are two different product designs and should, therefore, be listed on separate detail pages.
  • Example 3: A phone charger with an iPhone tip and a phone charger with an micro-USB tip are not valid variations of each other because although they share the same broad function of charging cell phones, they are fundamentally different in that a customer with an android phone cannot use a phone charger with an Iphone tip (i.e. the dissimilarities of the ASIN’s design and function are so basic as to be hard to alter, resolve, or overcome).

Why are Variations Important

Variations can be an essential part of your overall Amazon SEO optimization strategy.  The reason for this is that variations have some specific benefits, including:

  • Combining reviews of each child listing
  • Increasing discoverability of each child listing
  • Combines sales history to help with organic ranking

Amazon is a customer-obsessed platform, and variations can significantly improve the customer experience by making sure that customers can quickly see what options are available for purchase without having to visit multiple product detail pages on Amazon.shoe size and color variation

The combining of the reviews for each individual product on Amazon into one combined score in a variation listing can meanthat you can increase your social proof for your products.  However, there have been some that have manipulated this feature. This manipulation of reviews has caused Amazon to restrict the merging of reviews in some categories and products where they have seen a history of review manipulation.

In the episode, Robyn mentions Amazon’s definition of being retail ready for advertising on Amazon in the Learning Console.  In the learning console, there is a free course about how Amazon ads work and recommendations for your listing before you start running ads.  One of the recommendations in the course is that your listing has at least 25 reviews to be ready to run ads.  While we often run ads on products with less than this total number of reviews, it can affect ad performance.  This is why combining the reviews of several child listings into one parent listing can have such a significant impact on your ad and conversion performance.

In a variation on Amazon, the sale of each child listing is combined towards the sales history of the grouping overall.  Since Amazon’s A9 algorithm is conversion based, this can allow your listing to improve your organic ranking, discoverability and Amazon SEO.

Types of Variations

There are several different variation themes that are available.  It is important to note that not every variation theme is available in every category.  You are only able to use the possible variations for that category.

The most common variation themes are:

Single Variations

  • Color- This is the color of the item (blue, green, brown, etc.)
  • Flavor- The flavor of an item as a free form name.
  • ItemPackageQuantity & Numberofitems- The number of items in the product ( 6 pack, 12 pack, etc.)
  • Scent- The scent of the item (i.e., Pine, Lavender, Rose, etc.)
  • Size- This is the size of the item expressed in a number
  • Size Name- This is the size of an item expressed as a name (i.e., small, medium, large)
  • Pattern or PatternName- The pattern of an item as a free form name.
  • Style- The style of an item as a free form name.

Double Variations

  • Color-Size- This theme allows you to express the color and size of an item together.  For example, pants in 3 sizes (expressed as a number) and five different color options.
  • SizeName-ColorName- This theme allows you to show the color and size of an item when the size is expressed as a name (small, medium, large)
  • SizeName-StyleName- This theme allows you to show the size expressed as a name (small, medium, large) and the style of the product.

What is an orphan listing?

In a variation listing the parent listing holds no inventory, its sole purpose is to hold together the children listing in that variation.  If the creator of the listing deletes the parent listing from their inventory, sometimes the children will be separated and need to be reunited.

When a child listing is orphaned, the listing will revert to being listed as an individual product and no longer be connected in a variation relationship.

When this happens, we call these children listings orphans.  Reuniting these orphans is most easily done with a flat-file (spreadsheet) using the Variation Wizard.  However, you can reunite these listings through the interface. You will generally need to get seller support involved in the process.

How do you take individual listings and put them into a variation?

The process for taking individual listings and moving them into parent-child variations is different depending on which platform you are selling on.  However, Amazon does provide instructions for both platforms.

Seller Central

Amazon provides a step by step video along with instructions on how to add new children into an existing variation.   The instructions walk you through creating and uploading a flat-file to move the additional child listing into the appropriate parent-child relationship.

Note: This process is for taking individual listings and moving them into a brand new parent-child variation. To add an individual listing to an existing variation you would follow a slightly different process using the Variation Wizard.

One thing the video misses is that you must download the inventory upload template.  To do that, you will go into your Seller Central Account, then go to Inventory, Add a Product Via Upload, and then Download an Inventory File.amazon add products via upload

Then you can simply type your product type in the search bar.  Select the most relevant sub-category.  Under Step 2, select Advanced, then click Generate Template.  This will download the file they describe in Amazon’s training video.

types of products you want to sell on amazon


Vendor Central

The process is similar for Vendor Central as it is to Seller Central in that you will also use a spreadsheet and upload that file to create the variation on Amazon.  To get started, you will download the Variation Spreadsheet from the Resource Center.  To find the report, you will log into your Vendor Central account.   Then at the top of the screen, click on the Support link.  On the next screen, you will see a link to the Resource Center. amazon resource center

Then click on the link for the Variation Sheet.  This will automatically start downloading an Excel sheet for you to fill out.
amazon variation sheet

Amazon provides an example to see how the formatting should be presented for the file.

Once you have filled out the form, you will go back to the Support Page.  Then click the Contact Us button.

amazon help

You will be taken to the Contact Amazon Support page.  Then you will click on the Manage My Catalog.

contact amazon customer support

That will expand out to provide you additional options.  Then you will click on the Variation-Twister link.

manage amazon catalog

Then you will click on the Send An Email link and include the file you prepared earlier in the case to Seller Support.


When Should I not use a parent-child variation listing?

There are times when while a variation is available, it might not be the best option for your product. Here are a few questions to consider before grouping together listings together in a variation on Amazon:

  • Will negative reviews on one product hurt the other products in the variation family?
  • Do the variations share the same search queries?
  • How much competition do you have on your most important keyword phrases?

Will negative reviews on one product hurt the other products in the variation family?

Assuming we have three products that could potentially be moved into a parent-child variation:

  • Product A- 14 Total Reviews/4.5 Star Average
  • Product B- 22 Total Reviews/4 Star Average
  • Product C- 89 Total Reviews/1.5 Star Average

Setting aside that having a product with such poor reviews needs to be addressed, grouping these three listings would have an adverse effect on conversion for products A & B. Grouping the listings in a variation would lower the overall score of the three products below three stars.

Do the variations share the same search queries?

In some categories, you have variations that are available that allow you to group products by style name. While it might be possible to group products if the products have significantly different keyword profiles, it might be more beneficial to have each of the products on their listing. For example:

  • Valentines Bear- 50 Total Reviews/4.5 Star Average
  • Easter Bear- 40 Total Reviews/4.0 Star Average
  • Christmas Bear- 40 Total Reviews/4.0 Star Average

While these would all be a proper variation under style name, each bear is going to have very different keyword phrases that will bring in the most relevant traffic. Additionally, a customer searching for a Christmas Bear is very unlikely to end up choosing an Easter Bear or finding the group helpful.

While it is possible to try and drive rankings for different keyword profiles while the products are in a variation, you will not get the same benefit grouping these products together as when you group much more similar products.

How much competition do you have on your most important keyword phrases?

If your product’s main keyword phases are not highly competitive and the individual products are all ranking in the top 3-10 positions, you might benefit more from the three individual positions in the SERP rather than one variation that ranks in just one position in the SERP.

Do I have Buy Box control on all of the variations?

When you have variations, and you are planning on driving Sponsored Products Ads to that grouping on listings, it is important to have Buy Box control on all of the listing in the grouping. When you don’t hold the Buy Box on all of the variations, you might end up advertising for your competition.

Note: If you are the brand owner, it still might make sense to advertise on a variation where you don’t hold control over all of the variations as you ultimately do get the sale, it just might be through a different sales channel. You will have to account for your advertising data, not always clearly showing you an exact reflection of sales performance.

Using Twisters or Parent-Child Variations Can Increase Sales

Overall, using variations can help your product increase sales and lower your advertising costs.  However, like all tools on Amazon, they have to be used strategically in order to receive the biggest potential benefit to your product.  Creating variations and helping brands develop a holistic strategy for Amazon is something we love to help brands with.

Help Selling on Amazon

Robyn has years of experience helping with Amazon Account Management, Amazon PPC management, and Amazon Listing Management. For more information, contact Marketplace Blueprint today!

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