What types of product configurators are there?

There are many different configurators. But which type fits your business model? Did you know that the different types can be categorised very easily? And that you are thus very well able to estimate the approximate costs before starting a project?

Not all configurators are the same. A look at the Configurator Database with more than 1,400 listed configurators from a wide range of industries confirms this very impressively. Depending on the goal and "solution space", there are specific features that define what the interface to the end user must look like. And depending on the product, manufacturing process and customisation options, it may make more sense to use one type of configurator or another. In addition, a categorisation also allows for a rough estimate of effort.

The following classification helps to get a feeling for the dimension and the degree of complexity of a configurator as a web-based customisation project:

STO: Select-to-order

The customer selects components from the standard range of a product. There are no dependencies between the components and the availability of the product is independent of the choice of components. This means that any component can be connected to any other component. This is the simplest case of configuration and is especially the case with products where only the design can be customised. In the case of a shoe, for example, one could combine colours of the shoe and the laces in any variation.

PTO: Pick-to-order

The customer selects all product components - in this case, however, there are dependencies between the components. The customer must take these into account without the help of the configurator. The products are finalised and can be ordered from stock or in individual production. With a pick-to-order configurator, there is no design effort.

ATO: Assemble-to-order (also CTO Configure-to-order)

The configurator compares prefabricated components, taking component dependencies into account. Only desired or technically possible combinations can be configured. For example, if a roller blind for windows is configured, the maximum possible length depends on the width of the blind. A corresponding configurator would suggest the maximum length according to the entered width and thus support a customer in the process.

In the areas of development, design, procurement and production, this configuration variant is manufactured based on forecasts. Only when individual customer requests arrive in production is the specific variant completed. This means that from final assembly and distribution onwards, production is customer-specific, i.e. order-driven.

MTO: Make-to-order

The configurator allows the customer to define specific parameters based on product rules. Depending on the product, more or fewer variants and options can be selected. For example, a table can be configured to fit the space available in the dining room.

Production here is triggered by customer orders. The customer order is forecast-driven in the areas of development and design. Procurement, production, final assembly and distribution are order-driven. This leads to the fact that the fulfilment of customer requirements is associated with higher delivery times.

ETO Engineer-to-order

The components to be used are not necessarily all known in advance. However, due to the dependencies, their properties can be determined in individual cases. Manual clarification work may be required in the sales process, and design work in the case of an order. The development and design process is not triggered until a customer order has been received. The areas of design, procurement, production, final assembly and distribution are all order-driven in Engineer-to-Order.

ETO configurators are also used as innovation configurators. They consist of extensive solution spaces, unlimited trial-and-error cycles and a highly complex modularity. They also require a very high willingness to engage with the configuration process.

Customer touchpoint of the future

It is clear that configurators have gained enormous importance as customer touchpoints in a digitalised world. But even more than the pure availability of the configurator, usability is crucial for the entire buying, ordering and manufacturing process.

For complex products, the configurator also ensures that the functionality of the end product remains guaranteed. Configurators are also valuable tools for technical feasibility in production to avoid incorrect orders.

What is the right configurator for you?

What do your customers want? What possibilities does your production process offer? What resources do you want to and can you invest in the development of a configurator? We would be happy to accompany you in the process of finding the right answers for your company.


F. T. Piller and P. Blazek, "Core Capabilities of Sustainable Mass Customization" in: A. Felfernig, L. Hotz and C. Bagley (Eds.), Knowledge-based Configuration: From Research to Business Cases, Waltham, 2014, pp. 107-120.

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