Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mass Customization and the Long Tail

One way larger companies can address consumers' inceasing demand for customized "made for me/build your own" products and thus hopefully create their own long tail niches is through leveraging the internet and manufacturing technologies . And interestingly, at least so far, these initiatives require rapid, flexible response and thus US or Americas based manufacturing. The online presentation of the product as built by the consumer provides a rapid and full visual of at least the look of the product.

Four current initiatives by major brands come to mind. Nike ID and Timberland's Boot Studio both allow customers to design the colors of footwear (sole, uppers, laces, stitching, etc...) for about a 10% premium over the standard product. Nike ID offers a wide variety of models for different sports, you can even build the shoes on a large screen in Times Square using your mobile while Timbeland is focused on customizing its classic boot. LL Bean has a similar offering based on customizing its boat totes.

Honda has launched a mass customization program for its VTX1800 Extreme motorcycles:

"Imagine this one-of-a-kind opportunity to customize just about every aspect of your VTX1800. Start by choosing between five unique body Styles. Complement your Style selection with numerous factory-assembled options in the Build Specs section. Pick out one of several exclusive paint schemes in the Colors section. Then, to top it off, select from a wide array of Honda Genuine Accessories available through your Honda Dealer."

All of these initiatives clearly illustrate mass market brands creating mass customized products. The benefits include the positive feeling customers get from having a product made for them as well as the advance insights into preferred color and styles for their more mass market standard lines. These initiatives can also offer mass brands the opportunity to create their own dynamic nimble niches. And by building to order they can avoid gambles on what combination consumers really want, avoiding inventory costs and ultimately costly sales.

These internet based approaches to selling and building products also present interesting opportunities for new kinds of physical retail environments where the store becomes more of a showroom for look and feel, demonstration, and trial with the products ordered "online" at the retail store or sent via email or to a mobile as a link in an SMS message for further consideration and purchase. Just consider the efficiencies gained by the retailer, the touchpoints created bridging the online and physical world and most importantly the choices offered the consumer.

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