Sunday, September 28, 2014

Product Customization - A fad that's here to stay?

This week’s Mckinsey article supports the efforts towards customization of products for the consumers in various different industries. From apparel to food to cars, the possibilities of customization are theoretically endless. As long as companies can efficiently and effectively use technology to foster this initiative and the products resulting from customization do not hurt the company’s bottom line, what’s the harm in customizing every single product available to the customer?
In an industry such as retail, designers and brands are always looking for the next new trend. From fabrics to detailing, these companies are constantly producing products they feel will appeal to a large consumer segment. In fact, Levi Strauss offered customization of their jeans starting in 1993, but it never actually became popular. It wasn’t until technology could really support this initiative that customization caught on. However, trends remain trends - especially in the fashion industry. So who is to argue that something like customization of products won’t become passé? In an article in the Entrepreneur, experts argue that companies should be wary of customization becoming a fad and becoming too “mainstream”[1]. Companies should very carefully choose which of their products should be customized to ensure they stay both competitive and unique.
As a consumer, if faced when endless options to customize my purchases, I would have a hard time committing to a style and product. Knowing my indecisive nature with purchases, I would be too hesitant to purchase my creation with the fear of the unknown. How will my customized product look in real life? What are the return policies? states that while customization can certainly add to the customer’s experience, there’s also a risk that it could become an overwhelming or unnecessary aspect to the consumer’s shopping experience.[2] Perhaps this overwhelming quality can be counteracted with the fact that many companies allow customers to share their designs on social media. Perhaps this helps future customers to have a better idea of what might or might not look good in a product. In a survey report on Forbes, results indicated that companies that offered customized products ultimately had more engagement and loyalty from their customers. The founder of eThreads, a Boston based customizable handbag brand, states that her company’s goal is to make their customization shopping experience addictive, so that customers continue to return to make and purchase new products.
Considering these customer experience preferences, it is clear that the companies offering customization must have state-of-the-art algorithms to help predict the ultimate customized products, flexible shipping and return policies, and a supply chain that can be highly adaptable to different circumstances. One way to stay on top of all these factors is of course technology and the use of Big Data. The more data that is collected through enterprise systems, the easier it would be for companies to ensure that the customization process doesn’t actually turn out to be a detriment to their profits. Just as any other aspect to the supply chain, the question then becomes how can the company balance their goals for profit and customer loyalty with the customer’s needs and expectations? Will customization pan out so this balance is immediately achieved, or will it become a trend that fades quickly or a very overwhelming experience for the customer? Either way, it will be extremely interesting to see how this sphere encourages companies to step up their competitive game and offer the very best to keep their customers engaged.


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