Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Gaudy Is The New Black – Mass Customization

Gaudy is the new black.

Gaudy is the new black.

I recently designed a new pair of running shoes. I went to the NikeID website and configured approximately a dozen different components to create shoes in my custom colors. Nike assembled the shoes and delivered them to my doorstep in about a week. The price was roughly five percent higher than a standard shoe in standard colors at the mall.

Why did I design my own shoes? Well, partially because I could. Nike’s website has easy-to-use tools that let me mix and match colors until I got exactly what I wanted. I chose to go gaudy because that seems to be the trend today. The downside – Suellen is somewhat embarrassed to be seen with me. The upside – they’re great conversation starters, especially with women. Men, not so much.

Note that I only configured my new shoes. I didn’t custom build them. The shoe is an Air Pegasus, a standard, off-the-shelf model. I couldn’t design my own tread pattern or insole, for instance. Nor could I fool with the sizes. My feet are not the same size and I’d love to order shoes that fit each foot. Not yet. All I could do was take a standard template in a standard size and customize the colors.

I chose Nikes because I know exactly what size to order. I’m sure that all the athletic shoe companies have similar configurators but I’m leery about ordering the wrong size. I’ll probably stick with Nikes until better sizing systems come along.

According to McKinsey, in their latest report on mass customization, I probably won’t have to wait long. In fact, I should be able to do more customizing and less configuring in a number of product categories. Here are some examples drawn from the McKinsey report.

Sizing and virtual try-ons – several companies, including Styku and Constrvct, will scan your body (or parts of it) to create very precise 3D models. The system then projects the model on your computer and you “try on” clothes, shoes, etc. (Suellen used a simple version of this when ordering her Warby Parker glasses).

Create your own products – Starbucks allows you to create your own coffee drinks at At Adagio Teas, you can create your own tea that the company ships to you. You can keep it a secret (Travis Tea?) or offer it to the public. If other people order it, you get points toward future purchases. At Shoes of Prey, you can configure virtually any kind of shoe, not just running shoes. In all these examples, you get what you want but the vendor also gets more than just a sale. They also get valuable insights into market trends and what’s popular where.

Recommendation engines – I’m used to Amazon suggesting that if I like Book X, I’ll also enjoy Book Y. That’s nice. But, how about a recommendation engine that will help me build a new product? Why couldn’t the NikeID system tell me, for instance, that red and orange don’t go well together? McKinsey highlights a company called Chocri, that helps you build custom chocolate bars. If you create a bar with strawberry bits, it will recommend complementary flavors like cinnamon, almonds, or edible gold flakes. Who knew?

So, we’ll have much more choice in the near future. With flexible software to manage inventories and programmable robots to assemble the goods, custom-made products probably won’t cost much more than today’s off-the-shelf goods. That should create clear benefits for both suppliers and customers. It won’t be long. In fact, we may see many of the solutions even before I wear out my gaudy new shoes.

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