How many different products are there in the world?
To answer the question we have to define what the product is. It is not easy taking into account that some products might have different modifications.
If we put the same clips into the big and the small box, will it be the same product or two different products? If different packaging makes products different?
Other question, if we have two magnetic resonance scanners and one is white and other is silver is it the same product? We all know that color is not important in that case.
The question become even more Jesuitical if we imagine the same substances in tubes of the same size but with different brand names. Absolutely, marketing can create an enormous number of products even without touching the production.
Why do we want to count all the products? Do we want to imagine the complexity of the modern logistic chains, diversity of the modern production or just estimate the size of the product database?
There is one practical approach to estimate the number of products. First, we have to estimate the number of different product categories. Product category is the group of products with the same attributes, like «mobile phones» or «magnetic resonance scanners». We can estimate the amount of product categories using existing product classifiers.
For example, eCl@ass has about 14 000 product categories. UN SPSC has more than 40 000 commodity titles. GS1 has assigned more than a million producing company codes and each company could issue bar codes for its products. We can say for sure that there are millions of products in same industries, auto parts are in millions, chemical substances are in millions. Some categories has lots of products and other – just a few.
The answer is that there are tens of thousands of categories, and some categories might have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of products, and others – several products or a few dozen.
In practice, companies deal with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of different products. NATO can boast with several millions items of supply in the database. Anyway, no one deals with all the complexity of products.
In Actualog, we create a list of complex technical products and we expect to have several million products.