What is a product configurator?

 

Customize furniture

Per Wikipedia, a product configurator has traditionally been defined simply as “a computer aided manufacturing system to produce a custom output.”

A new generation of web shoppers

With advances in Internet interfaces and a growing demand for interactive shopping tools, the product configurator is experiencing a renaissance.   Gone are the days of stale, slow, technical product configurators that simply accomplish the goal of “producing a custom output. “  Today’s end users demand so much more.   Every retailer has made user experience top priority.

The product configurator has evolved into an online guide that leads customers to exactly what they’re looking for.   A configurator platform is a tool used to build custom applications without any custom coding.  So, web developers can change data, behavior, and the presentation layer all without writing any code, and without the costs, bugs, and delays of custom code.

At its core, a visual customization platform is a rules engine. The rules engine allows a developer to continually refine a product solution based on a customer’s previous input.

The core platform can be employed to address a variety of applications, for example:

–       product customization

–       product recommendations

–       troubleshooting

–       diagnostics

–       sales quote generation

Personal shoppers

Use cases and applications

For example, an online shopper may be designing custom furniture. When the customer chooses a panel color, the rules engine can automatically suggest matching trim colors.    This is a guided customization flow.

Or, maybe a customer may have no idea what panel color to choose in the first place.  The system assists them by asking them questions about themselves, and make suggestions accordingly.   This system creates a “taste profile” for the customer.

Or, maybe a customer is looking for a new flat screen television. They don’t know whether they want an LCD or plasma screen, what resolution they should get, what size is right for their viewing area, etc.  The system can take the human expertise of a salesperson and convert it into an automated online guide that helps the customer find what they need quickly & efficiently.  This process emulates a “personal shopper.”

Technology

A configurator platform should have a clean separation between data (product info), functionality, and presentation.  A dev team should be able to parallelize development:  One person can be working on styling, while another works to flesh out all the product data, and another can work on tweaking the UI behavior and navigation.

One of the big problems with the current online shopping experience is that it is product-centric, not customer-centric.   Product search is mature and well adopted, but it’s only useful if you know what you’re looking for.  A product configurator can take the human knowledge of a product expert and translate it into an automated online tool that’s fast and scalable. Think of it as making your best salesperson available to every customer who visits your site.

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2 Responses

  1. Another great post Dave. An online product configurator enables lots of customer choices. We have found (as your prior presentation stated correctly) customers really value an efficient and timely buying process. Many customers tell us they want choices, but only if selecting those product attributes can be done quickly.

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