Just as not every eCommerce business is the same, not every product is the same. Selling typical retail items — say, kitchenware, toys, etc. — may be the most common business model, but it's hardly the only one out there. Some businesses, like online craft stores, rely on selling their products in fractional quantities rather than whole units. For example, a fabric store will only rarely sell an entire bolt of cloth, instead cutting it to order for sale by the yard. Other industries often follow this practice as well, and in many cases it's the best solution for their products. Trying to sell any other way could result in waste, extra expenses, and even dissatisfied customers.

Some types of businesses are so well-known for selling in fractional quantities that they likely couldn't operate without them. But if you're just starting your business, and still looking for ideas as to how you can sell your products more efficiently and provide your customers with more options, you may discover that fractional quantities would work well for you even if they're not immediately associated with your niche.

In this article, we'll discuss how fractional quantities work and go over their common and potential uses, so you can decide if they're right for your business. We'll also cover how to set them up in your online store.


What are Fractional Quantities?

The purpose of selling in fractional quantities is to allow customers to buy different amounts of a product that may not reflect the same amount the retailer purchases from their supplier. Selling fabric online is the most familiar example, which we've already touched on briefly.

Fractional quantities can also be used by businesses that manufacture their own products rather than buying them wholesale. In this case, the fractional quantity isn't used to allow the retailer to split up an individual unit as they received it, but instead to provide customers with a flexible and sensible way to purchase different amounts of a product that may not work well in standard packaging. For example, a store selling fresh herbs may not always have the same amount available each harvest, so splitting their crop into pre-made package sizes might not be efficient.

Ultimately, fractional quantities are for businesses that benefit from selling customizable amounts of their products, whether because it's needed in their industry or simply as another opportunity to help customers.


Types of Fractional Quantities

Fractional quantities can be divided into a few small categories based on the methods the business has chosen. Each business sets up its available quantities according to its needs.

Some businesses use completely open quantities, meaning customers can choose the exact amount they purchase, sometimes down to multiple decimal places. Offering complete freedom in quantity selection can cause problems, so open quantities are usually still restricted in some small manner, like a minimum and/or maximum amount. Open quantities are highly situational in use, and are best when a business needs to sell extremely precise amounts of their product (and has no obstacles in doing so).

Other businesses are stricter with their available quantities. Some only allow purchases in multiples of a minimum amount, which still offers a lot of freedom for the customer, but in many cases is safer for the business. Sales trends are easier to predict, and any remaining amount of the product will still be salable at the usual rate, since it will still fit within the allowable purchase quantity for the next customer. For example, let's say a fabric store has 6 yards left of a specific material. A customer who buys 1.67 yards will leave the store with 4.33 yards remaining. The next customer may need 4 yards. The store would be left with .33 of a yard of fabric that they would likely be unable to sell. By restricting purchased quantities to multiples of 1 or 0.5 yards, the first customer would need to purchase 2 yards, earning more for the business and reducing waste.

Another method some businesses use is to set specific amounts for fractional quantities, so the customer needs to select from a predefined list rather than entering their own number. This is the best option when the business only offers exact amounts and wants full control over what their customers are able to select. It's also the preferred method for businesses that are selling pre-packaged quantities of products.


When to Use Fractional Quantities

Understanding fractional quantities and how they work will help you decide whether their usage is appropriate for your business — and for some industries, they're not just "appropriate," they're absolutely necessary.

Most businesses that rely on fractional quantities deal in some form of raw materials, whether for crafting, building, repair, or other industries. Customers will need these supplies in specific amounts that don't often match the full size of a unit. Fabric, wire, other metals, lumber, clay, and other such supplies are prime examples. Some businesses may sell both predefined sizes and fractional amounts as needed.

Cooking ingredients are another type of raw material that customers will often want to buy in fractional quantities. Spices, grains, rice, flour, and honey are all good examples, but another factor to consider is that many ingredients are perishable. Perishables can be sold in small amounts to ensure the customer can use them up before they expire — fractional quantities allow them to buy what they need without any going to waste.

Established businesses that sell any type of material in predefined amounts may also want to implement fractional quantities according to customer demand. If you get frequent questions from customers wanting to buy different amounts than those you offer, consider whether adding fractional quantities may be feasible. Of course, this depends on how you source your products and how much control you have over their packaging, among other factors.

Services that charge by the hour can also use fractional quantities to let customers reserve the desired amount of time. Consulting businesses may choose to let the customer set the length of the appointment, within restrictions. Minimum amounts are especially handy in this situation, since most hourly services impose a minimum time.


How to Set Up Fractional Quantities in Your Shift4Shop Store

Shift4Shop makes it easy to set up fractional quantities for any products you need. It only takes a few moments, and you can independently add fractional quantities to any product without it affecting other products. So, if you want to handle the quantities differently for different items, you can do so without concerns.

1. Add Your Product

Selling products in fractional quantities starts the same way as selling any other product: by adding it to your store and adjusting the product's settings. You don't need to install an app, add extra code, or activate a broader setting in the control panel — fractional quantities are handled directly from the individual product's Advanced tab.

Start by adding your product as normal. When you're ready to set the price, enter the amount for which you want to sell a single fractional unit of the product. For example, if you're selling fabric by the yard, enter the price for a single yard of fabric.


2. Decide on the Quantities You Want to Use

Before you start adding fractional quantities to the product, make sure you've considered the following questions (continuing with the familiar example of yards of fabric):

  1. Do you want to let customers order literally any amount they want to buy, even if it's an unusual number like 1.25 yards? Keep in mind that this can cause issues with some types of products by producing remnants — for example, with fabric, you could end up with a .75-yard scrap that may not sell.

  2. Do you want to let customers enter any amount, but have your store automatically round it up to your next chosen interval instead? This is a great way to give customers freedom to choose how much they need, but helps prevent the "remnant" problem mentioned above.

  3. Would you rather just provide customers with a dropdown menu of the quantities they can purchase? This can be the best method for several types of products, as it puts full control in your hands, allowing for the best mitigation of waste. For some products, however, it's not necessary — for example, if you find yourself entering small increments into the options, it may be much easier for you to use other methods, like minimum amounts and rounding up.

  4. Do you want to set a minimum and/or maximum amount of the quantities a customer can purchase? It's almost always a good idea to set a minimum so as to prevent orders that are too small to be profitable (an extremely tiny order can cost more to process and ship than you'd make from the sale). Maximum quantities should be based on your inventory, followed by any other considerations you'll need to make.

Once you've decided on the way you want your quantities to work for this product, the next step is to set them up. In Shift4Shop, we refer to different types of fractional quantities as follows:

  • Open Fractional Quantities: the customer can enter any amount they like.
  • Limited Fractional Quantities: the customer can enter an amount, but the store will automatically round it up to the next fraction chosen by you.
  • Merchant Specified Fractional Quantities: the customer can only select specific quantities from a dropdown menu.

Compare these three types of fractional quantities to the questions we had you ask yourself above, and you'll see how they relate to the specific ways you want to sell your products. You can also control minimum and maximum amounts.

Now we'll demonstrate how to apply these different types of fractional quantities to your product.


3. Apply Fractional Quantity Settings to the Product

Navigate to your product's Advanced tab and find the Price and Quantity Options section. Check the box labeled Allow fractional qty. This checkbox is required for adding fractional quantities to the product regardless of your later settings.

By checking this box, you've immediately applied Open Fractional Quantities to your product, in which the customer can enter any amount into a text field. Now you're ready to fine-tune this as desired.

Look for the settings labeled Min. Qty. and Max. Qty. These are the minimum and maximum amounts a customer can purchase, so if you need to define these, enter the numbers in these fields.

The Min. Qty. amount is also used for creating Limited Fractional Quantities, as it defines the interval your store will round up to when the customer enters an amount. For example, let's say you're willing to sell half a yard of fabric, and set your minimum quantity to 0.5 to reflect that. By checking the box labeled Allow only multiples, you'll restrict the customer's selection to round up to the nearest 0.5 no matter what they enter in the box. Entering 0.8 will round up to 1, entering 1.3 will round up to 1.5, entering 6.6 will round up to 7, and so on.

If you would rather use Merchant Specified Fractional Quantities, there's no need to enter a minimum and maximum in the same way, nor to apply rounding limits. Instead, after clicking the Allow fractional qty. checkbox, locate the field labeled Qty Options:. In this field, enter the specific quantities you want to make available, separated by a comma with no spaces. For example, entering 1,2,3,4,5 will create a dropdown menu with options to purchase these different amounts.

Once you've set up your fractional quantities to your liking, remember to save your changes.

Bulk Pricing Discounts for Fractional Quantities

If you want to offer bulk discounts based on fractional quantities, you can set this up in the product's Discount tab just as you would for any other bulk discount. Choose the Customer Group that will be eligible, enter the amount of the discount as a hard number or a percentage, and follow the rest of the usual instructions for setting up bulk pricing for eCommerce products. To get it to work with fractional quantities, simply enter the appropriate decimal amount within the minimum and maximum quantity fields rather than using a whole number.

Why Shift4Shop is Best for Selling Fractional Quantities

While it can be possible to sell products in fractional quantities on other eCommerce platforms, Shift4Shop is the superior choice based on two facts: this functionality is built into the software, and it's flexible enough for any product.

With other eCommerce platforms like Shopify, you'll wind up paying extra for apps to provide you with the features you need to run your business, fractional quantities included. This means an increased monthly fee, which can come as a surprise if you didn't realize a feature was missing from the platform. Apps can also be unreliable, since they're usually built by third-party developers who may not be able to create something that fully works with the software. A quick look through Shopify's app store will show that this happens often. Of course, apps have their place, but you should never need to purchase one just to get basic functionality.

Other platforms like BigCommerce have serious limitations in this area as well, requiring custom code editing to enable fractional quantities. This means a need for technical knowledge and the willingness to edit your online store's theme, or paying for custom development. This is even less ideal than an app, as there's no set cost or procedure for implementation.

Shift4Shop is the only eCommerce platform that includes fractional quantities as a baseline feature available for all stores, plus it's completely customizable to work with any product or business model. As a built-in part of the software, it's also guaranteed to work smoothly with other settings in your online store, like bulk discounts. If you need to use fractional quantities to sell your products, Shift4Shop is the most cost-effective and reliable way — and as you've seen above, it only takes minutes to set up.