Mass customization – where customers can modify a product’s appearance, features or content to their specification – has been the “next big thing” for a very long time. Even as far back as the 1970s, futurist Alan Toffler predicted the emergence of mass customization. Yet it has taken until very recently for the tools to enable such a revolutionary new production technique to become available on a mass scale. Now everyone from Nike to Motorola are using the technique to provide a unique product that is customized and created by their customer. Customization is no longer the “next big thing.” It is now just “the big thing.”
“People want to participate in building their products they don’t want black and white anymore” Dennis Woodside, CEO of Motorola
We are now living in an age where the producer-consumer relationship is rapidly changing. More and more the consumer is an active partner in the creation of their products and in the coming years this will come to be a standard procedure for businesses.
So why now?
Emerging Digital Technology
Digital technology is becoming more customizable. Our online lives, from Facebook to Google Maps, allow us to imprint ourselves on the Web for all to see. This kind of advancement brings with it an expectation that customization will transfer from Web to real life, with consumers demanding more control over the things they buy. We have identified three reasons that will see digital technology drive this personalized vision from dream to reality.
- Supply chain technologies now create a more efficient production cycle. Software such as DriveWorks enables an efficient flow between the co-design of the customer and the production of the business.
- Customer-facing configuration technologies have dropped in price significantly (think from $1,000,000 to $20,000) allowing the customer to configure their products and create their own.
- Customer-facing technologies are developing rapidly. With augmented reality and integrated cameras becoming a mainstay of technology (think Kinect), configuration is becoming easier and easier to do.
Increasing interest in customizable products
Aside from established categories (such as eye glasses) we have seen an explosion of customizable products. From cars to clothes, people have expressed interest in personalizing products. Forrester’s 2011 report confirmed that 35% of US online consumers expressed interest in buying customizable products and saw customization as adding value.
Even that might be an understatement of the potential of mass customization. The “I designed it myself effect” has proven that consumers see economic value in their co-designed creations creating a significantly higher willingness to pay for the item they created. With sales configurators more robust and easier to set up than ever, it’s no surprise that many companies, from SMEs all the way to multinationals like Nike, are choosing to market customizable products.
The modern marketplace is packed to the rafters with competitors, making customer loyalty key to a successful business. Creating customer loyalty is no mean feat however, and the process of understanding what the consumer wants is growing alongside the complexity of the data available.
Mass customization allows the consumer to directly interact with the manufacturing process; this not only allows them to feel like an active partner, but allows businesses to adapt and change to fit the needs of the consumer. Through seeing which product configurations are most popular, companies predict what features customers will want in the future.
Sales Configuration and Design Automation
Many businesses who are already active in mass customization will know that the biggest challenge is creating an easy-to-understand configuration page that accurately communicates with the design software they use. With software such as DriveWorks, the business can capture the rules for the item they have designed and then create an integrated user facing front end which allows the customer (distributor/dealer) to change the design allowing for thousands of permutations.