Mass Customization: Just Upsides?


Mass customization is becoming more and more trendy. An increasing number of companies turn their products into customizable ones to attract customers that seek uniqueness, but are they all successful? Also, are there only advantages to this? Nike, Ikea and Dell did it; but when and where do companies stop? These are all questions we try to answer in our mini-case.

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First, why is mass customization such a sought feature? Well, if handled correctly, it’s a win-win concept for both customers and companies. Thus, the customer receives a product which fits better his/her needs, while the company gets great insight into what its customers want. Aside from choosing a suited market and/or product, handling mass customization correctly means following 5 principles:
deciding whether the customization process focuses on needs or parameters, providing the starting point, offering the possibility for incremental refinements, creating prototypes to be tested by consumers in order to avoid surprises and teaching the consumer about the product [1].

For instance, The Boiler House, a small company in New Zealand providing central heating systems installation offers customers highly customizable products. Clients can choose their desired system based on a comprehensive questionnaire where all elements are thoroughly explained if need be. However, the “Build your own central heating system” experience might not please every soul, as it requires a lot of time and patience. This is in many cases the curse of mass customization.

While looking at other companies that adopted mass customization we can notice other downsides as well. Sony Vaio laptops for example can be engraved with a personalized picture, however Sony refuses returns of such products and their value on the second-hand market is quite low. Some other companies, such as Ferrari, charge an unjustifiably large premium on personalized features.

So, with all these in mind, do people still want custom-made products? In New York, they don’t. A new trend taking us decades back in time has emerged in the Big Apple – normcore – “embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for ‘difference’ or ‘authenticity.’” [2]. So for those of you worried that you don’t show enough of your individuality, be aware that a plain pair of jeans and a plain white shirt might be all that’s required to be cool in the future.

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[1] Randall, T., Terwiesch, C., and Ulrich, K.T. (2005). Principles for User Design of Customized Products. California Management Review. 47(4).
[2] Duncan, F. (2014). Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in Seven Billion. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com

— Group 4: Martijn, Mark, Alina, Henri, Pauline —

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