So you want to sell custom products? (Part 1)

Albert Wenger of Union Ventures

Here at Treehouse Logic we talk to a lot of start-ups that are betting on the design-your-own business model.   We’re seeing some major shifts in shopping behavior, most of which are discussed in this blog.

Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures probably explains this phenomenon of mass customization the best: “We’re pretty convinced that mass-market consumer products are now so cheap and widely available that they’ve lost a lot of their appeal. We think people are looking for something unique and customizable. We’re interested in the social fabric — bringing people together that design things, and people who want to buy them.  Mass produced goods are dominated by a few large brands. But everywhere you look there are movements seeking to bypass those brands, whether it’s the locavore movement in food, or something such as NikeID, which has seen double-digit growth year over year.”

So how can new entrants to the customization market build businesses that focus on providing something unique and customizable, as well as tap into the power of the social fabric of designers and buyers?   Here are a few tips for up-and-coming custom product vendors:

Don’t repeat the mistakes of past customization businesses

Dell's product configurator

About 10-12 years ago we started seeing the first consumer-facing visual configurators.  Nike ID, Dell.com, and Timbuk2 were pioneers of the design-your-own movement.  What worked for them?  What didn’t work?   Why did Levi’s drop their customization program?   Why did Dell give up on customization?  A lot has changed in both shopping behavior and web technology in the last decade, so be sure to learn from others mistakes, and don’t replicate them.   Do your homework and focus on creating a NEW spin on customization that is innovative, simple, and core to your business model.

Build the brand first

Your value proposition has to be much more than “have it your way.”  You need a brand story that resonates with your customer.  Instead of customization itself, focus on what your core product values are, for example; product quality, locally made, sustainable, fashionable, built-to-order within a week, etc.   Yes, design-it-yourself is a selling point, but your customers don’t buy from you because your products are custom, they buy from you because your products are what they want.

Consider avoiding the ‘custom’ term altogether.  The term ‘custom’ can imply difficult-to-make and expensive.    Eventually, all products will include some level of mass customization.

Focus on product quality

Custom Burberry trenchcoat

Users are taking a big leap of faith by buying your products online.  Don’t let customizability get in the way of product quality.  Highlight your product with high res photos.   If you’re going to differentiate from commodity products you need to stand out in quality and design.    Luxury brands like Burberry use customization as an engagement tool that helps build their luxury brand.    “Honestly it makes no difference at all” how many custom coats Burberry sells, Ms. Ahrendts says. “It’s customer engagement. You want them to engage with the brand.”

Launching a customization program is a lot more involved then just bolting a build-your-own feature onto a website that features mostly “standard” products.      How do you plan to stand out?

Look for more best practices in future posts…

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: