Blog 5: Options, Accessories and Variants

Terms that seem straightforward, or are they not? When a company deals with a diverse product range offering numerous configuration options, terms like options, accessories, and variants are undoubtedly familiar on the shop floor. While these terms might be completely clear to some businesses, we often find that this clarity is not a given. This can lead to misunderstandings and even painful mistakes.

(Un)voluntary options

Looking at the official definition, the dictionary tells us that an option means a ‘free choice = possibility’. Within a configurator, this would refer to a feature of a product or service that you can choose optionally. Although the definition of this term implies a choice, this is not always the case for options in a configurator.

In some instances, an option is not voluntary. Take certain machines, for example. When assembling a machine, specific mandatory safety options might need to be selected to comply with local safety regulations. If these options are missing, the machine simply cannot be operated. In other words, although these safety options are presented as options, they are actually mandatory. The configurator must then signal that this option cannot be overlooked.

Present accessories

According to the dictionary, accessories are ‘accompanying items’. This might be a bit cryptic for our context, but in the manufacturing industry, accessories are accompanying, ‘loose’ products or parts that can easily be mounted or supplied later. An accessory is thus also a choice that the customer can make freely.

But how do we distinguish options from accessories? It’s important to realize that an option often replaces or extends something already included in the base product.

Consider a kitchen sink unit. We know that we need at least one cabinet: with one sink and one faucet. The possible sink versions (dimensions, shape, material, and depth) are the options. Therefore, at least one option must be chosen compulsorily. However, we are free to choose an option other than the standard sink. For sink accessories, you might think of a dishcloth holder, sink mat, or insert basket.

Confusing variants

Moving on to variants. Again, tapping into the kitchen cabinet with a sink story, suppose the customer opts for the double sink (= option). In this hypothetical scenario, the dimensions of this sink are so much larger (wider) that the cabinet underneath must also be of different dimensions. Not only does it completely change one or more components, but it also potentially raises more questions, and its price impact on the entire product is also significant. One choice can lead to multiple significant variations in the entire product.

In the case of a kitchen cabinet, the width is often a fixed value. In that case, the option for a wide sink would not be available. If you still want to know what the costs would be with a large sink and therefore a wider cabinet, it’s wiser to just create a new quote/configuration. This is then called a variant of the configuration.

In this situation, you can use the clone function in Merkato. This function allows you to easily create a variant of an already made configuration. If this variant turns out to be too expensive, no problem: you simply revert to the previously made configuration.

Optional options

The so-called optional option is also a commonly heard term. This term refers to the standard option being chosen, but your customer also showing interest in another option. Continuing with the sink example, this is a case of: “Give me the standard, but I’m also interested in the price for the brushed stainless steel version” (= option). For you as a seller, this is likely a common scenario. Unfortunately, for a (simple) configurator, it’s sometimes impossible to include this in the consideration/quote, because only one choice can be made in the selection list. If a company wants to offer ‘optional options’, this needs to be considered when setting up the configurator.


The above ambiguities or non-obvious terminology can lead to discussion, both internally and commercially (towards the customer). The good news is that, after more than ten years of being at the top of the industry, we have a wealth of experience regarding options, optional options, variations, and accessories. And I have even more good news: Merkato offers a lot of fun, technical possibilities to perfectly match your needs!