How many millions of dollars in sales does the mass customization industry generate every year? Can I get that data by region? Can we slice the data by customer segment; like urban hipster youth versus affluent soccer moms? Who are the incumbent companies in the mass customization market? Who are the up and comer start-ups and what market share are they gaining?
Well, the first problem to answering these questions is that the mass customization industry does not exist as a stand-alone industry. Even Frank Piller would agree that the ‘mass customization’ term is an oxymoron and doesn’t accurately describe one specific market. The term is really a generic description of manufacturing process.
Here’s a break down of some sub-markets that leverage customization:
The personalization industry is really it’s own animal. Usually personalization incudes these two key elements:
1) Image upload (upload a picture of your cat and drag it over this t-shirt!)
2) Text overlay (write a message over the image of your adorable cat!)
Personalization manifests itself as a sub-section of the printing industry. Shutterly enables personalized photos, Vista Print offers custom business cards and stationary, and Zazzle and CafePress offer custom printed hard goods like skateboards, caps, and sweatshirts.
The personalization industry is giant and growing, no doubt. Zazzle alone has 1,000 employees. Companies like CaféPress, Threadless, and Spreadshirt are growing and in some cases eyeing IPOs.
The design-it-yourself market is gaining steam as shown by a flurry of VC funding and NikeID generating $100M in 2010 from custom products alone. Most of the customization vendors featured in recent “The customization 500” study are small, with a few exceptions like Nike, Converse, and Adidas.
One thing is for sure, we are in a mass customization 2.0, ie “me-commerce” era beyond just offering basic customizability. “Where Mass Customization 1.0 offered a single experience for a built-to-order process, Me-Commerce digs deeper to tailor the customization experience to the goals, desires, and motives of the consumer, leveraging these idiosyncrasies to assist the customer in developing the best possible product and with the best possible experience.”
What’s important to realize is that customization will permeate ALL reaches of the larger retail market. Large volume commodity apparel manufacturers like Gap and Old Navy will integrate more interactive visualization tools into their online shopping experience. Mass producers will over a level of customization, ie designability, into the purchasing flow.
“Standard” products like cameras and mobile phones will expand their choice navigation tools to product configurator toolsets. The key ingredient is fun. Shopping is getting more fun and inherently more shareable. And shareable content is the key to any successful social media campaign.
- Offer a new level of creative interaction. Consumers want to have more fun while shopping.
- Offer a more intuitive way to navigate the ‘paradox of choice.” New businesses like Fab.com and Trunk Club have shown that users will spend money on services that offer the service of product curation.
- Generates a more social shopping experience. Customization is really just a sub-set of the social commerce market, ie design/shop and share products ala Facebook, Pinterest or Polyvore. Engagement is just as important, if not more important, than sales conversion.
So, how large is the mass customization market? Well, how large is the retail market? The online shopping market? The manufacturing industry? I guess it depends how you slice it, but there’s a lot of missing data out there.
(Side note: It’s too early to tell where 3D printing will take hold in the consumer and manufacturing markets, but one vendor, Markerbot, claims to have sold 10,000 3D printers in 2011.)
This post was inspired by Carmen’s article on the topic of revenue opportunity in mass customization.