One of the earliest lessons in life is taught in preschool; “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”. Sure, it makes sense that your child should accept the cupcake with red frosting rather than the one with blue frosting. Seriously, they both taste the same right?
Hold on, the last time you painted your house were you forced to take the first paint can on the shelf? There are at least 1,677 Pantone colors for a reason.
Individuality and differences in taste are intrinsic to human nature. But choice in the retail world means huge inventory, and resulting loss of revenue when that inventory doesn’t move. Overstock shops and outlets may help but not all companies choose to let their high end brands wind up on the shelf in these locals. Many stores would sooner demolish their overstock and drop the debris in the dumpster than donate or discount. This is the unfortunate outcome for many products. The environmental (and economic) impact is too often disregarded in hope to protect the “brand” name. So how can retailers offer choice?
Several major trends in recent years have offered a solution to this unfortunate situation. Firstly, small local businesses with a “made-to-order” model are popping up across the states. We have become (again) a country of makers. Whereas mass produced, foreign made, and cheaper products was the ethic in the last century, we are now seeing a trend toward quality, American made, and yes, custom made products with a world of options. Items made to order may cost a bit more and take longer but today’s consumers are willing to wait for a product that is made exactly the way they want it.
The “artisan economy” has its roots possibly in Brooklyn, N.Y. with the hipster population and strong “built in Brooklyn” sentiment. Cities like Brooklyn, Austin St. Louis, Portland, Minneapolis to name just a few have opened their doors for small shops that make products to order. Even larger companies like Room and Board are proud to work with local craftsmen for their custom items.
The internet and social media have been instrumental in helping this new “Artisan Economy” thrive. Customers can easily find the right products and companies they want to buy from. Likewise, small businesses can now reach out directly to potential customers. Social media, affordable internet marketing and “maker” sites like Etsy and Custom Made help customers “meet their makers”. Social sites encourage customer engagement, company transparency, and foster a meaningful relationship between the seller and buyer. Feedback and reviews help a small company gain credibility and help them to quickly adjust their products to meet their customers’ needs in a way that would be challenging for a large corporation.
New web-based “visualizer” or “customizer” platforms make it easy for smaller businesses to offer their customers a world of options. They offer consumers the ability to see in realtime what they have chosen. Visualizers make it less scary for customers to make these choices when buying online. Several years ago this option was available only for large corporate businesses. Today there are a number of companies that offer more affordable options for smaller businesses.
The next step in customer customization will allow everyone to be the maker. DIY’ers are everywhere. Sites like Instructibles and Pinterest make it easy to discover new ideas and then learn out how to make them. Home models of 3d printers, laser cutters and mini CNC routers are becoming more affordable and more common in the homes of hobbyists. This will take the customization to the next level. People will be able to design a pencil tray that uniquely fits their writing tools, design their own dresses, bike helmets. The options are endless.
Simple blue cupcakes are the way of the past.