Dealing with lots of variants (e.g., colors) of a product can be frustrating for users. I propose that Sansar offer the approach commonly employed by many POS systems, including Amazon's.
In this scenario, every product variant still gets added to the store separately and, of course, has its own SKU, just like now. But vendors can define an abstract "product group". Let's say, for example, that a designer creates a "Plaid Skirt" product group. To that group they add three dimensions: "Color", "Length", and "Metals" and define options for color like "Blue", "Green", "Red", for length like "Miniskirt", "Knee", and "Ankle", and for metals like "Gold" and "Silver".
The product group definition also gives them the ability to come up with a detailed description of the same sort seen on all products. When a customer views an item, they'll see both the group description and the item description. The product group also has a price on it that, if edited, is the default price for every item in the group. See below.
Now the designer goes to each of the variants, already added to the store but not yet brought live. There's a drop-down list labeled "Product group". They select "Plaid Skirt" from the list of all groups they have created along the way. The Price field now can be left blank to indicate that it gets its price from the group definition. But the user now also sees 3 new drop-down lists — Color, Length, Metals — and must choose one option from each of those lists in order to properly tag this variant. One specific item may be named "Plaid Skirt - Full-length red with gold trim", even though its group is simply "Plaid Skirt".
Finally, the designer sees a check box labeled "Show in search" and checked by default. Unchecking this will mean that the product group is searchable, but this item is not. Checking all the variants would mean that each item is available in the search. The goal would be to encourage vendors to reduce the number of items directly searchable through smart grouping.
The customer may do a search for "plaid" and find one (or all) of these variants in search. Next to each would be a number indicating how many variants there are of that product; or at least that there are multiple variants. When clicking on one for a detail view, the detail will show the group description and then the item description. Between the two would be three drop-down lists with each of the dimensions (Color, Length, Metals) visible and the current item's own settings already selected. If the user changes any of them, the appropriate item gets shown. If a variant is missing from the matrix of possibilities, the detail would make this clear via a special icon and descriptive text, not to mention disabling the "Buy" button.
This would be a powerful tool in the short term. Longer term, Sansar could offer standardized classes of items with standard variant dimensions so that the user could do class-based filtering. Here's an example of what it's like to shop for skirts on Amazon using the filtering side-bar:
This would be a much bigger project, requiring careful curation of product classes and communication with designers to encourage them to standardize their product groups, but would be a boon for shoppers.
Also, another longer term project would be to offer alternatives to drop-down lists, like thumbnail images. Again, using Amazon as an example: