Here’s a nice graphical representation of the customization, personalization, mass customization, crowd-sourcing market landscape. Pretty! Thanks, Musen Lin.
Innovation often focuses on improving usability in order to access a broader audience. Photography is a good example. You can buy a powerful, complicated SLR camera and take a photography course, or you can buy a point-and-shoot camera and get started right away. Further, you can upload any basic image from your phone to Instagram and add a filter without having to know anything technical about film processing.
The Internet economy has always been focused on improving usability and empowering the masses. Successful Internet companies provide self-service tools that allow non-technical users to engage with their products and services. eBay, for example, empowers anyone to become an online merchant, SurveyMonkey empowers anyone to write and deploy their own web survey, and WordPress empowers anyone to become a blog publisher. The theme is “no programming skills required.”
Any product or service that can be templatized or configured via an admin panel will be. We’ve written previously about such trends as “democratizing fashion” and the proliferation of product configurators (customization) and online design tools (personalization). Here are a few examples of the next frontier of the digital do-it-yourself movement.
In the education space there are many self-service training tools like CodeAcademy, Treehouse (no relation), Lynda.com, and Khan Academy that give aspiring web developers the tools to learn new skills. Along these same lines, Game-o-matic allows aspiring game developers (or aspiring computer science students) learn the basics of object relationships through an interactive video game development platform. The interface is drag-and-drop intensive with no exposure to the game code itself.
Design your own toy
Cubify lets anyone design their own toy. The 3D product configurator allows a user to make functional and color selections. According to Cathy Lewis, Vice President Global Marketing, 3D Systems, “Cubify Bugdroids underscores 3D Systems commitment to democratize creativity.” Indeed the online product customization tool enables anyone to play the part of an industrial designer. The experience is limited and guided, of course, minimizing the risk of user error. “Creativity loves constraint.”
As we’ve often written on this blog, there is a fine line between designing and shopping. Designing used to mean manual aesthetic creation by trained professionals, while shopping used to mean selecting and buying mass produced products off the shelf. Now we’re seeing the worlds of product design, product selection, product customization and crowd-sourcing merge together as the Internet continues to produce innovative, browser-based, do-it-yourself, design / shopping tools for the masses.
Maybe what the mass customization movement needs is more celebrity endorsements? Golf has always been an example of an industry that is heavily driven by professional endorsements. Golfers want to put like Tiger, drive the ball like John Daly, and win like Arnold Palmer. And why wouldn’t they want to design their own golf clubs with an online product configurator like Phil Mickleson?
“Golf is already the most personalized sport there is in terms of custom equipment options, and our new udesign by Callaway platform brings personalization to a new and exciting place,” Jeff Colton, SVP of Global Brand and Product at Callaway said. “The opportunity to design your very own driver in the colors of your favorite team, alma mater or whatever you happen to feel looks best has never been offered on a mass scale.”
Here at Treehouse Logic we talk to a lot of start-ups about launching new, design-your-own business models. This post is second in a series of tips for new entrepreneurs entering the mass customization space. Here is the first post.
Remember the product configurator is a sales tool
Limit the amount of control your configurator offers. Your customers wouldn’t want to walk into your retail store and be handed scissors and raw material, would they? Yes, they want to be involved in the design process, so give them control, but insist that options and combinations they select have been pre-approved by you. Customers depend on your expertise to design, build, and deliver the product.
Don’t ask your customers to make difficult design decisions. The backlash of control is frustration. Customers who ask for power will in fact abandon the process if they feel like they are asked to do too much work or make tough style decisions.
Keep in mind that the risk is not necessarily in a long purchasing process, but in creating a difficult purchasing process. The same customer who abandons your website after trying to design a custom dress shirt for 40 minutes will happily spend 4 hours pinning images on Pinterest. Why? Pinterest is easy, intuitive, social, fun, visual, and low risk. Configuring a dress shirt is loaded with risk.
Many new build-your-own companies get distracted by new web technology and sexy visualization gimmicks. Customers don’t need a space-age hologram of your product; they just need an accurate, elegant picture of the customized product to help increase their confidence. Remember, you’re not in the technology business, you’re in the customer satisfaction business. Simplicity is key to sales.
“Online apparel retailers have the highest return rate in eCommerce. On average, 1-in-4 garments bought online are returned to the retailers. The return rate is higher – over 40% – for fitted and more expensive fashions. Most of the returns are due to bad fit.”
Anytime you are asking customers to step away from the computer to find a measuring tape and measure themselves you are losing a big chunk of your audience. There is too much risk of error.
No one has cracked “the fit problem,” but many are struggling with the measure-yourself-at-home approach.
Custom by design
Many companies fail at custom products because it contradicts their core culture. Company’s like Levi’s could not simply bolt-on customization to their mass production business. Build your culture and business model around customization from the ground up. Just like many new business models are re-defining themselves as “social by design,” (like Spotify for music, or the Washington Post for newspapers) build up your company to be “custom by design” at it’s very core.