Five critical questions to ask about a mass customization program.

by

A mass customization and personalization program delivers tremendous financial benefits to companies. However, when brands consider implementing it, they often focus on the up-front software cost. That’s the wrong thing to focus on. Of course, initial cost is a factor, but it’s by far the least important consideration. Here’s what you should be thinking about:

What kind of internet bandwidth does my customer have?

Your corporate servers are only half the equation. Rendering products with 3D rotating software consumes enormous bandwidth on the consumer’s side as well. Does your typical customer have sufficient bandwidth at home to load the product smoothly, without lag or buffering? If they live in rural areas, they may not. And if your customers most often shop on their phones, they’re likely to have annoying lags when viewing products. 2D software might be a more enjoyable, less frustrating experience for them.

How much does it cost to add a new SKU to the website?

The expense of digitizing your product line is just the opening ante in the mass customization game. You’ll have to continually add new styles to keep your offerings fresh. Consequently, don’t look only at the initial setup fee—you have to consider the cost of adding each additional new style. Not surprisingly, 3D renderings can cost three to five times more than 2D.

How long does it take to add a new SKU to the website?

Related to the previous question, you need to know how long it takes to add each additional product to the website. Speed can be a real driver for both the top and bottom line—you want to have the ability to capture a sudden fashion fad, or make a quick change to a seasonal assortment. If it takes too long, you miss the opportunity. It can take 6-8 weeks to render products in 3D, versus 3-4 days in 2D.

Do I absolutely need a 3D rendering of my product?

Instinctively, you might think that 3D, continuously rotatable renderings provide a superior customer experience. And to be sure, 3D is visually sexy. But multiple 2D perspectives can be equally appealing to consumers, particularly if the software allows the customization to be “warped onto” the product (not simply pasted on top of the 2D image) so that the customer can see how it will look when it’s actually made. Digitizing and merchandising an entire product line in 3D can be two to three times more expensive than doing it in 2D.

How will my order management software handle the product?

The consumer-facing, product configuration software is important, but equally critical to a good customer experience is integrated order management software. If your system can’t handle a custom order properly, the order runs the risk of getting lost in the shuffle of your regular high volume production runs. One footwear company started (and then abandoned) its mass customization program when it found that it took six weeks to turn around a custom sneaker—the front end software was terrific, but the back end system couldn’t efficiently manage those orders. A mass customization program creates a closer relationship with customers, which builds brand loyalty. It raises starting sales price, which increases top line revenue. It reduces markdowns and closeouts of aging inventory, which improves both bottom line profitability and environmental responsibility. It provides insight into nascent consumer trends, which accelerates market responsiveness. But if you want to reap those benefits, you first have to ask the right questions.