While the COVID pandemic undoubtedly shook up the way business is conducted, one of the largest impacts was the way 2020 saw a global acceleration in the adoption of digital trends. Among these, eCommerce was the one with the highest adoption rate. According to a recent February 2021 research, 84% of Americans expect their digital brands to have a seamless experience between physical and online.
For a modern retail brand, eCommerce is no longer an option. However, the rising supply of online shopping options has created an ever more competitive landscape in the eCommerce space. Tech giants like Amazon have created a high bar when it comes to customer satisfaction in the digital space. This, in turn, causes market trends to advance and evolve... and fast.
While the last decade saw the popularization of eCommerce as a concept, the next decade will shift the expectations of what a functional digital strategy and supply chain looks like to comply with the expectations of the modern consumer.
This brings us to the next big question on everyone's mind, what's next for eCommerce? What are the next trends and practices that will put early adopters ahead of the competition?
The answer: Mass Customization.
What is Mass Customization?
The term was first coined by IBM in 1984, mass customization is the production of goods according to precisely what individual customers want while keeping costs for manufacturers at a low level. This technique is the best for both personalization and production. This has prompted leading experts to agree that "mass customization" is the future of retail.
In a world where customers expect 2-day deliveries and seamless online experiences, the next big step will be the personalization of goods. With rising practices such as Distributed Manufacturing and 3D printing, Mass Customization is slowly, but surely, accelerating its way into becoming a widespread approach to shopping.
In this article, we explore innovative methods being developed by large companies to allow customers to make personalized choices from a large selection of goods thus helping restore individuality to scalability. Let’s dive straight in!
Mass customization has two components: personalization based on user choice and "synchronous production" using tools such as 3D printing or computer-controlled machine tools to produce goods with top-notch quality.
This empowers customers to choose from a large number of possible options, such as custom-designed shoes, or personalized kitchenware, which may include paint colors and the choice of handles for a particular pot. When designing these goods in the 'factory', for example using computer-aided design (CAD), manufacturers are able to see the finished product before they make it so that they can ensure that each unit produced is just right.
In this way, brands can provide more value to their customers and the customers feel more connected to the brand on a personal level.
2. Synchronous production:
When brands want to create customized items as soon as their customers order, they switch to Synchronous production. This is easily achieved through the usage of machines such as robots and High tech 3D printers.
One of the most interesting things about this technique is that it is not only meant for giant companies but also most appropriate for small entrepreneurs and brands to provide customers with a unique and personalized offer, which is often difficult to achieve by the former due to their rigid manufacturing operations. We discuss more benefits like these in our blog The Quest For Customization In A World Of Economies Of Scale.
Why is the practice becoming more relevant?
Mass customization was developed as a response to the rise of personalization on the web. Most successful retailers have found that while customers are happy to browse through large numbers of products, they increasingly prefer to order customized goods - choosing from a small number of options such as color or size.
Customers then want an efficient service that provides fast delivery but at a relatively affordable price. Mass customization satisfies these needs by creating goods in bulk, using technologies such as 3D printing or robotics, which reduce the complexity and cost of production while maintaining high quality.
What are the benefits of Mass Customization in eCommerce?
Today mass customization is practiced mainly by large manufacturers, but the technology itself is highly adaptable for many small businesses or brands too. For example, it could easily be applied to services like e-book publishing, e-commerce sites, luxury products and so much more that need quick visualization before placing orders. This subject is briefly explored in our blog on Online 3D Configurators: 6 use cases
Some of the benefits of mass customization include:
1) Faster Delivery
With Mass customization, custom-made goods are produced in bulk, which then just need to be sorted and packed for delivery. This means that orders can be shipped much faster than with smaller individual lots of items. More orders shipped, more sales made!
2) Reduced Costs & Complexity
In Mass production, to make a decent sense from a business perspective, a high volume of orders needs to process, which inadvertently escalates costs and increases complexity. Whist in Mass customization, you only produce what you sell. This way, you keep your costs low, make production less complex and keep customers happy with the best quality of products.
3) Reduced Shipping Costs
With mass customization, there is no need to send out samples or prototype products because the consumer has no limited options. This means that shipping is highly efficient. Since shipping is becoming increasingly expensive, mass customization offers a great cost advantage. (Costs can even be further reduced by applying practices like distributed manufacturing.)
4) Improved Quality
The entire process of Mass customization is based on providing products according to specified specifications. It also helps in improving the quality of individual items, and this means that mass customized goods are, in most ways, always uniform, of high quality, and up to precise specifications.
5) Better Control Over The Supply Chain
Mass customization allows manufacturers to control inventory levels in their supply chain by allowing them to predict demand more accurately.
This prevents overproduction of goods that may have a short shelf-life or may end up being returned by customers due to minor defects. The increased efficiency and production means that manufacturers can respond more quickly and cost-effectively to changes in demand.
6) Environmentally Friendly
Where mass production emphasizes economies of scale, mass customization focuses on the needs of individual customers. With mass production, brands produce large volumes of a single product and make minor adjustments to the assembly process for each specific customer order.
Mass customization can involve customizing every detail about an item or service: materials, design, packaging, colors or flavors in food products, location of delivery, and more. This allows for on-demand manufacturing at reduced levels of waste and pollution when compared to traditional manufacturing. This subject is further explored in our Nomade Editions case study.
Many experts agree that mass customization will become widespread in the coming years. If mass customization becomes integrated into eCommerce, it could transform the industry and ensure that e-commerce enjoys continued success.
Companies like Unruh Furniture in the United States and Nove25 in Italy are already applying mass customization using 3D Configurators in their eCommerce ecosystems. This has allowed them to position themselves as highly innovative and provide a truly personalized purchasing experience.
How can you implement Mass Customization?
More and more companies are finding that customizing products to suit individual needs is a great way to increase conversions. As we all know, eCommerce is a business in which it is vital for websites or merchants to maintain a healthy conversion rate. In order for this to be achieved, the site must not only offer products that consumers want but also provide flexibility with these items so that customers can purchase exactly what they need.
In the past, customization has always been something reserved for high-end and luxury goods that tend to be expensive. But now, thanks largely to the Internet age, mass customization has become an affordable option for small businesses of any shape or size as well as large corporations with extensive budgets.
As an eCommerce business, your primary goal is to open up a line of communication with customers and provide them with a personalized product. Mass customization is one way to do this. By adding aspects like custom colors, logo integration, and monogramming to your offerings you are able to cater to individual tastes and preferences while also creating an opportunity for increased revenue.
But how exactly does one implement mass customization? Here are five key steps:
1) Start With A List
Create a list of all potential customization options that fit into the shape of your specific needs. This will be important later on when it comes time for budgeting purposes as well as a presentation during the implementation phase with customers. This should be manageable, but keep in mind some items may not make the final cut.
2) Customizable Options
Make an inventory of the customization options you identified in step 1 and use that information to create a spreadsheet with a checklist of all of the options. This is where it comes in handy to have an overview of all the possible customization options available. You can use different colors, fonts, and other design elements for each option.
3) Listen To Your Customers
Brainstorm with potential customers on what they would prefer to see brought to life by your eCommerce business through a custom design. Invite them to provide you with their thoughts or ask them to draw a picture of their ideal look. This will enable you to create a design that includes your options and their suggestions. Win-win for Both.!
4) Make Budgeting Easy
Once the design is finalized, work on the budgeting procedures. You will need to decide how much money you want to allocate for each option, whether there are any additional costs beyond the estimates in step 2, and if it is feasible for you to try out all those ideas at once.
5) Great UI and UX
Finally, you can create a user-friendly interface to add to your eCommerce website for your customers to understand their options and find the right parameters that fits them. A good way to do this is by adopting a parametric 3D Configurator approach. These are truly customizable 3D models of your product that can be shaped and molded by any parameter you want them to (scale, color, material...).
A good example of how these 3D configurators work in an eCommerce environment is the buying experience of the company Shapelamp, which allows users to design their own lighting unit that will then be automatically sent a manufacturing order through CNC cutters. You can try their configurator by visiting their website.
All in all, mass customization is the next step in the evolution of eCommerce. Its implementation can help create an even more successful online marketplace by providing better customer service and creating a personalized buying experience.
Although the global pandemic has accelerated the adoption of eCommerce worldwide, mass customization is simply beginning to take up. Ecommerce and Mass Customization, according to eMarketer research, is all but set to increase in both volume and capital in the coming years. With the right tools and strategies at your helm, for incremental growth, the right time to push is now.
Mass Customization is a rising trend that is gaining popularity and becoming more accessible through the years. This practice is already allowing companies from all shapes and sizes to cut down on costs while increasing customer satisfaction and creating brand diversification. As eCommerce becomes the new norm of the retail world, tailoring experiences to the individual will no undoubtedly become the next step.