While working for NIKEiD, I had the chance to experience a revolutionary business model that offers consumers the chance to customize the products they purchased in a very intimate and engaging way. NIKEiD is a product customization service that is about more than just veneering the shoe with color, materials, and graphics; it actually allows athletes to tailor the shoe’s performance benefits, such as the midsole technology and outsole tooling, to meet their own personal needs and wants.
This portion of the Nike Portfolio was impervious to the economic decline as it continued to grow roughly 20% each year and always maintained a premium price point, proving that regardless of the overall financial decline, consumers retained the desire to engage with–and oftentimes create–both their shopping experience and the purchases that resulted from it. On average, consumers would spend 9 minutes per visit on the NikeiD site engaged with the brand, a trend that eventually crossed over to the Brick & Mortar retail experience.
Stores like Target and IKEA have brought design to the masses and have put consumers in charge when it comes to the personal aesthetic they want to create, and how to go about attaining it. Quality design is no longer out of reach, and as the average consumer has more access to product customization and personal styling, she will inevitably develop stronger opinions about what and how businesses provide these kinds of interactive models.
Despite the reality of trends and the ability for a product or brand to inspire a huge consumer following, almost every person considers himself an individual with very personal, customized needs and desires. Each of us carries with us the need to be recognized as one-of-a-kind, and our authentic individuality is not only something we each hone ourselves, but is something we expect our personal style and purchasing decisions to reflect for us.
The need for product customization is a Macrotrend that encompasses literally every product on the market. From dishwashers to cars to cardigan sweaters, today’s buyers wants products that meet their very specific lifestyle requirements while making a statement about who they are as individuals: what their personal aesthetics are, what their values are, and what kind of image they wants others to associate with them. Because we want—and can get—products that meet our individual prerequisites while outwardly narrating a detailed description of our lifestyle choices, it is more important now than ever to listen to what buyers are saying in order to offer a customized product that not only meets their needs, but allows for the kind of personalization that differentiates them from the rest of the pack.
Although the technology that allowed manufacturers to begin mass-producing products seemed like an extremely positive breakthrough at the time, it led to a massive decline in product customization. In the 1950’s and 60’s companies began to adopt a one-size-fits-all mindset that eventually blanketed the market, with little consideration for the consumer and their personal preference. Over the course of a few decades, consumers lost the incentive to ask for customized products and a snowball effect was created: by the 1980’s mass-produced items with no individualistic appeal saturated the retail market and the value of a personalized purchasing experience became virtually unknown to consumers.
Like all movements, the pendulum has swung back to the opposite end of the spectrum, and product customization has become the norm in spite of the still thriving culture of mass-production. As consumers become enlightened to the ideas echoed throughout each Macrotrend, they seek out products whose artistry and craftsmanship distinguishes them from the carbon-copied millions available at massive retail chains, and take a “boutique” approach to styling their own lives through the products they buy. The old-school idea that one could order an item tailored to their specific needs is channeled through products like NIKEiD, which listens to each individual consumer and allows for interaction and customer participation.
Product customization goes beyond the ability to pick out the specific colors on a shoe before putting it in your online shopping cart or the type of transmission on a car before driving it off the lot. Now, much of what consumers interact with on a daily basis offers customization by way of listening to consumer feedback and monitoring user activity.
Pandora, Last.fm, and iTunes Genius keep track of the genres and styles of music you like so that they can continually offer you new listening experiences; Starbucks allows its customers to design and track their eating and drinking preferences through an online app so that each experience in one of their cafes is personal and specific.
This Macrotrend is only going to grow as consumers communicate their needs and retailers become more savvy at enhancing the buyer’s experience. Consumers are asking for feedback and recommendations, and shopping sites like Amazon are giving it to them, as are social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. This feedback invites the consumer into the brand and asks them to linger around to see what kinds of recommendations, and personalized information will be offered.
Delivering a customizable and practical experience that accommodates each buyer’s personal needs and wishes is a tough order. The most important aspect of the Product Customization Macrotrend is creating a platform for feedback and interaction, and constantly listening to—and catering to—the buyer.
The result of customization is the ability to stay a step ahead of buyer trends due to your location at the pulse-point of consumer feedback. Listening to your customers—and altering your product as their needs change—allows for a natural growth process that is based on integration of customer preferences and product evolution.
Rather that waiting for another trend to sweep the market, then scrambling to change your approach, the ongoing conversation you’ve created with your customers enables a relationship that lets you know what your customers want, perhaps even before they do.