6 Product Relationships that Increase the Cart

The proper use of product relationships can really build the sale. Recently I was shopping online for some stain for a furniture refinishing project.  It would have been very useful if this particular hardware site had a strong product relationship structure so that the other items that would commonly go with the stain were shown, such as paint brushes, rags, sponges, drop cloth and clear varnish. Instead they had different available colors, which was good to know, but useless since the color was already chosen. A hunt ensued to find the related needed products and that time could have been greatly reduced to the convenience of this customer if product relationships had been in use.

There are several kinds of relationships in product organization. The most common is product to product and this relationship can be used to increase the customer cart. This can be done in several ways. Many companies’ group items together in the PIM taxonomy to show relationships, such as grouping accessories with its base products, but this can muddy the taxonomy and category specific attribute.

The best practice is to base your taxonomy on “is-ness” and relate these products by product relationship links.

Below are 6 types of product relationships, what they mean and how they are used.

1. Accessories

An accessory is a supplementary item that can be augmented to the base product to improve effectiveness, convenience, attractiveness, safety, etc. For example, if the buyer is buying a Hard Had and a list of accessories to that Hard Hat displays a head lamp attachment, just that awareness and knowledge that such an accessory exists is useful to the customer, not to mention the likelihood of them adding said accessory to their shopping cart is now possible since they now know of its existence. The more compatible accessories listed, the more likely they will be added to the cart. The customer can’t buy it if they don’t see it. Accessories can also be known as ancillary, complimentary or add-on products.

Rather than placing the head lamp attachment under the Hard Hat category in the taxonomy, it would be recommended to place this item in an “is-ness” based category such as Head Lamps, so it picks up the proper attribution. If this head lamp accessory was under a Hard Hats category it may have an attribute assigned to is such as hat size, which is not necessary to a head lamp, but if it was under a Head Lamp category, it could be made to pick up attribution such as lumens, lamp type and mounting type. The character Data, from ‘The Goonies’, would have greatly appreciated this product relationship when creating his ‘Bully Blinders’ or ‘Pinchers of Peril’.

2. Replacement Parts

Replacement parts for a base product are items used to repair the base product and are also known as spare or repair parts. If a customer has a lawn mower but needs a new blade, they will more than likely search for the mower and hope to find a list of replacement parts rather than search by the blade model number. Having this list of replacement parts linked via a relationship to the base item is essential for the customer to find these items quickly and easily. Similar to the accessories example above, showing the breadth of replacement parts increases the likelihood for the customer to add multiple items. If the buyer sees a spark plug is also available, they may purchase it as an anticipatory add.  

This blade should not be in the same category as the lawn mower, but in a separate category that reflects the appropriate attribution, such as Lawn Mower Blades.  This would have attribution such as Blade Type rather than something associated with a Lawn Mower such as HP or Drive Type.

3. Substitute

A substitute product is a product that is very similar to the base product. If the base product is out of stock, the substitute that is similar to the base product except 1 or 2 attributes, could be suggested to the customer in its place. In addition to this, showing the customer different similar options as available for purchase will allow them to compare and find the product that truly meets all of their needs.

Unlike the previous relationship discussed, the items in this relationship should be in the same category. The items need to be very similar to be marked as substitutes, which would mean they have the same attribute assigned to them, but possibly an attribute value or two that is different.

4. Upsells

Upsells are product LIKE the base product but with increased power, efficiency or safety. Upsell usually are accompanied with a higher price point. Let’s say the customer is shopping for a snow blower but then see a much more powerful and efficient snow blower in the upsell list (insert Tim Allen’s hohoho) they will be tempted to purchase that upsell instead.

This is another example of a relationship that more than likely will be in the same category. A case that may have different categories is if there is a category with the same use, but more convenience/efficiency to the customer. For example, a snow blower may be an upsell to a snow thrower.

5. Cross Sells

Cross sells are products that are often used with the base product but from a different category. For example, if a homeowner is buying paint, they are likely to need plastic sheeting. This is not an accessory since it does not improve the base product. It is something the buyer would be likely to buy if they are aware of it since it will help with their overall project. They are items that are often bought together. This can sometimes be referred to on websites as ‘Customers Also Bought’ or ‘Customers Who Bought This Also Bought’

6. Component Parts

A component can also be known as a required accessory. It is needed for the base product to work appropriately. This relationship will list the component parts that are compatible for the base product, eliminating the guess work for the customer. Any opportunity to remove confusion for the user is a UX win. A very basic example for this is a list of batteries that are compatible to a specific flashlight. The flashlight NEEDS batteries to operate. Another could be a list of actuators compatible to a specific globe valve. The globe valve NEEDS the actuator to operate, but there is a list of actuators to choose from.

The base product and the component would be in different categories because they have different category specific attribution. Some companies do group them together because of the requirement need, but this will cause unnecessary attribution, which would be showcased by blank attributes or N/A values. A product relationship solves this problem.

Taxonomy and Product Relationships definitely play around each other, but there are clear cases where the related product should not be grouped in the same category as its base product. Product categories based on is-ness provide clean category specific attribution and Product Relationships should not muddy that attribution. As the example mentioned above, if a headlamp accessory was grouped with a hard hat, there would be many blank attribute values since the two items have very different category specific attribution. There are some product relationships that pull from the same category, such as substitutes, as illustrated above, and a proper taxonomy schema can point the user to the best product to relate to the base product quickly and efficiently. These two concepts, Taxonomy and Product Relationship, are integral to a successful buying experience and if they are done right they will increase the click to cart ratio. If done incorrectly, you risk lost revenue.

For a look into how we use customer data models, product data models, content models, and knowledge architecture to create a framework for unified commerce download our whitepaper: Attribute-Driven Framework for Unified Commerce

Earley Information Science Team

We're passionate about managing data, content, and organizational knowledge. For 25 years, we've supported business outcomes by making information findable, usable, and valuable.