In the mass customization space we talk a lot about the broad reach of the Internet. It’s tempting to spend all our energy focusing on the online customization experience; ie product configurator design, product visualization, site performance, and website sales conversion rates.
But, it’s important not to lose sight of the offline customization experience that has laid the foundation of the customization business model. Your product, its customizable options, and its presentation often start with a physical, in-store presence.
How does a brick-and-mortar retail presence help drive a customization business?
Despite all the advances in interactive web technologies, there is no replacement for and in-store shopping experience. For example, when buying a custom dress shirt, many people feel most comfortable meeting with an experienced tailor in person, rather than risking measuring themselves at home.
Although the online product customization space is growing, customers do not flock to online customization overnight. To help transition customers from the offline to online shopping experience, companies like BlueWardrobe offer a multi-channel approach, ie “employ both an online and offline strategy to help customers “bridge the gap”. Customers can order a shirt online or have the unique experience of meeting one of our professional tailors in person.”
Custom bag vendor LaudiVendi (“Individual” spelled backwards) began with a brick and mortar store in Chicago. But, in order to cater to their growing online community they have a customer service line to help customers decide what kind of design selections they would like. “Prior to purchasing a bag, you can order swatches of our materials. This allows you to see and feel the leather before committing to placement on your bag.” This approach gives a physical presence, ie the ability to touch and feel fabrics, to the online customization experience.
eCreamery has one store in Omaha Nebraska but developed a loyal fan base locally and sought to expand through the online market. They created the site in 2002 with the goal of giving complete creativity to the flavors their customers desired. OmahaSteaks started in a similar way but now has stores all over the country and has a very reputable online service.
For your business, customization can be part of a larger marketing strategy that involves converting customers in store, on the phone, and via social media / the Internet. Customers will engage with your brand at whatever channel best fits them, or maybe a few of them. Successful customizers have focused on creating a customization experience in at least one in-store location. Once your core physical experience is defined you can set about expanding it to the Internet.