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A better approach to limited edition products.


Brands have long known that limited editions of products are potential gold mines. Witness the lines of people (in pre-Covid days) before a Nike shoe drop or a new Supreme t-shirt launch. Consumers love the cachet of the special product, of being one in a million, rather than one of a million.

The downside of limited editions, of course, is the risk that your design team misses the mark, and you end up with a warehouse stuffed with the fashion equivalent of New Coke or Cheetos Lip Balm. If you’re a strong enough brand, you might be able to force your retail partners to eat the product. But if you’re not, you’ll likely have to take it back or reimburse your retail customers. That’s a costly proposition for any company that isn’t 100% confident in its ability to predict customer tastes.

Advances in digitization, however, provide a better, less risky alternative. Product customization software allows your design team to let their creativity run wild – without having to actually build the product before consumers see it. Advanced 3D product models with 2D perspective renderings provide consumers with hyper-realistic images of the product, while the integrated order management system on the back end enables the brand to rapidly spool up production to meet customer demand. The risk is entirely removed from the limited edition business model.

Back in 2004, Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine coined the term “the long tail.” He argued that products with low sales volumes can collectively occupy a market share that exceeds the relatively few best selling products. As a result, companies pursuing a long tail strategy can earn significant profits by selling low volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a few popular items.

Limited edition products take advantage of this theory – not many customers want a pink and green striped shirt with embroidered pandas, but those who do will happily pay from 15-40% more for it. However, the traditional approach is imperfect: the brand still has to shoulder the burden of correctly guessing market demand for the product.

By prioritizing pixels over protons (i.e., designs over physical inventory), product customization software perfects the limited edition product strategy. Your designers’ most creative ideas stay virtual until customers actually show they like the product. It allows the brand a risk-free way to exploit the long tail of consumer demand.

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