The manufacturing industry has had its fair share of difficulties over the past few years. It feels like we have faced an endless list of setbacks, from shipping containers stuck in the Suez Canal to a worldwide labour shortage and almost everything in between.
Alongside these external pressures, the way we operate has changed. Customers are searching for extreme customisation and increasingly tight specifications. Mass customisation is an exciting practice that can help businesses adapt to this new landscape.
Mass customisation (also known as mass personalisation) is a practice that has been around for a while now, but seems to be flying under the radar. We’ve seen some of the bigger companies toying with the idea, with examples like Nike’s popular NikeiD platform and M&M’s custom-printed candy.
So, what exactly is mass customisation? And how can businesses adapt to this new way of meeting customer demand?
What is mass customisation?
Mass customisation is a business concept which refers to the ability of a business to produce and market customised products that reflect the requirements of individual customers. Despite the customisation, mass customisation practices keep the individual production costs similar, if not equal, to their non-custom version.
The idea of mass customisation has been around for a long time. The concept is attributed to Stan Davis, coming from his 1987 book “Future Perfect”. In his 1993 book, Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Businesses Competition, Joseph B. Pine expanded on Davis’s concept and described four types of mass customisation:
Collaborative customisation – With collaborative customisation, businesses will have regular conversations with individual customers to identify which products best serve their needs. They use this feedback to define and manufacture a product with further customisation to provide more value.
Adaptive customisation – Adaptive customisation sees businesses mass produce a standardised product that can be customised during the sales process. This method helps keep production costs low, as the core product can still be mass produced.
Transparent customisation – Transparent customisation is a stealthier way of providing individual customers with unique products. Personalised products are offered to customers without explicitly telling them that the products are customised.
Cosmetic customisation – Cosmetic customisation is another subtle way to offer customisation to customers. Businesses will produce a core product but market it to customers differently. For example, a soft drink often comes in different shaped cans and bottles, but the core product is always the same.
Why are businesses opting for mass customisation?
Businesses that can successfully pull off mass customisation can gain a strong strategic advantage and are sure to drive revenue.
Modern customers are looking for customisation, convenience and quality, which is a tough combination for manufacturers to achieve. However, with mass customisation, businesses can streamline their custom product line and reduce the cost of customisation.
Being able to cheaply produce customised products can also help increase profit margins, because you can charge a premium for the customised product even with a lower cost per unit. This also helps increase customer satisfaction and retention because customers know they can buy a personalised product and still receive the same high quality as a standard product.
Overcoming the challenges of mass customisation (and examples of businesses who are getting it right)
Adopting mass customisation is a tough task. A lot of work and expense needs to be put in before businesses see benefits. This is why the practice is so sparsely adopted. However, when businesses get it right, they can quickly rise above their competitors.
Developing a platform for custom orders
Right out of the gate, you’re faced with a problem. How will customers customise and order their products? The platform you use to sell standard goods may not be suitable for custom orders, so you will likely need to create or find a new platform with those capabilities.
D’Addario has a perfect example of a custom order platform done right. For their line of Evans custom bass drum skins, they made the processes as simple as possible, so everyone can understand it. Customers can design a custom version of their core bass drum heads in just three steps. This level of simplicity is something other manufacturers are struggling to compete with.
Customised products are often more complex and costly to create. It can mean reconfiguring your production line and replacing automated systems with human workers. Mass customisation takes from standardised mass production, bringing back the automated processes and simplicity.
Nike does this extremely well with NikeiD. Customers have a straightforward process that allows them to choose from a range of pre-designed parts used in other product lines. This allows Nike to use the same production processes, keep costs down, and offer highly customisable products.
Finding the perfect balance between mass production and customisable products is a tricky tightrope to walk, but it’s incredibly beneficial for those who dare.
Keeping lead times low
There’s an implication with any customised product that the wait between ordering and receiving the product will be longer. Unfortunately, these longer lead times make it tough to compete against standardised manufacturers who can offer much shorter lead times.
Mass customisation practices help combat these longer lead times. With raw materials being used for a standardised product line and custom products, lead times can be reduced.
Product returns are always an issue no matter what you produce, but for custom products, it can be a nightmare. A returned custom product is challenging to handle, as it has been built specifically for one person. This makes reselling difficult, as you have a much narrower audience to sell to.
However, with mass customisation, a customised product is still a version of a standardised product line that all customers want. This can make it easier to resell a returned product without needing to discount it as heavily.
Is mass customisation the future of manufacturing?
It sure could be. Despite its challenges, those who adopt mass customisation practices can offer a sizable boost to their business and rise above the competition.