Interview: Heiko Vogelgesang of egoo.de, the leading German Mass Customization Consumer Portal

Heiko_vogelgesang_09_swWhile the Mass Customization "movement" originated in the United States, the German speaking world has long caught fire about the concept. Many companies are already employing it over here, be it as their main business model or "just" a side branch. 

For all those who want to update themselves on news and trends about MC in German language, my dear blogging colleague Heiko Vogelgesang will most likely have you covered on his very well-written and often updated blog egoo.de.

Furthermore, egoo.de features a pretty comprehensive database of MC companies from around the world, often with a personal review of the products by Heiko. 

We had the chance to talk to Heiko about his blog, the experiences and observations he made during his years-long time in the MC community and his expectations for the future of  individual customization. So read on for what egoo.de really has to offer!

FTP: Heiko, your blog egoo.de is the largest mass customization blogs in German language, and one of the best in the world. Many people take it as an entry point to the MC world. When did your interest for MC spark up and what fascinated you so much about this topic that you decided to start your own blog about it?

HV: My interest started with my first own shirt in 1999. I loved the idea of creating your own products. Nonetheless almost eight years passed unitl I realized that there is a lot of need of information. Beginning of 2007 I wrote an article with an overview of german Mass Customization Online-Shops on my private blog. I never had so many visitors on my blog before. So I researched about this topic and saw that there is no website which informs specific about this topic. egoo was born. After round a about 1 ½ years of planning, egoo.de started in september 2008. 

FTP: What exactly do you offer? What can consumers, scholars, managers expect to get out of a visit on your blog?

HV: First, egoo is geared to end consumers. They can expect a "unique" database of mc-companies, interesting news about personalized products and special offers. But also scholars and managers will find a lot of posts with interesting news about the mc industry.

FTP: And how does this work for companies wanting to be included into your database? Can one simply sign up and fill a questionnaire or do you hand pick them?

HV: Yes, there is a simple way to sign up for free at http://egoo.de/shops/shop-eintragen. The principal goal is to have a complete database with ALL online-shops where you can customize products. To give the visitors an orientation there are hand-picked recommendations in the specific categories.

FTP: Can you go a bit in depth about the benefits of your database for consumers in comparison to, say, just googling for MC companies?

HV: Gladly! First of all the visitor gets an editorially approved overview over all mc-shops of his interest. eg. business shirts. Also, as i already mentioned, the visitors find in every category hand-picked recommendations. Additionally there are detailed information like pricing, shipping time, special offers and year of founding provided for most of the stores. 

FTP: With these services offered, your database needs to be and stay curated and maintained. How do you guarantee for up-to-date information about the companies listed in it?

HV: In Germany we call it "Alle Angaben ohne Gewähr"

[information supplied without liability]. 😉 So there is no guarantee that all information are up to date at all times. But I check the information regularly and do my very best.

FTP: All this work you invest into your blog and the database certainly costs a lot of time. How do you finance yourself, do your services cost money?

HV: No, there are no costs for customer and no costs for shops. I try to finance this project just by ads. For example companies can buy display-ads, a highlighted position in the database or other special promotions.

FTP: A more in general question: what do you think will the future of Mass Customization be? Will it just be a trend or the new businesacs model for all (or most) of retail?

HV: In my opinion it quite clearly is a new business model for retail. But not for all. You'll never will successful sell customized bathroom tissue. At least in masses. But for the most retailer there is a lot of potential in mass customization. 

FTP: From your experience with all the companies you examined for your database: What are the major errors you notice being made by MC-companies and how do your think these could be avoided?

HV: The major error was to think that to sell personalized products are easier than other ones. In the commodity boom of the MC trend in 2010, there were a lot of startups in Germany who tried to jump on the bandwagon. Many of them are closed again. E-Commerce isn't that easy. On the contrary: With personalized product you have to solve a lot of problems that you don't have with mass-products. 

FTP: How important do you rate the use of social media not only to promote ones MC-company but also interact with consumers to better position oneselve in the market?

HV: Especially personalized products are very emotional. Customers put a lot of time to create their own product so they love them. That's the perfect requirement for sharing in social media. This advantage can be exploited by the mc-companies.

FTP: Do you see any differences between smaller and larger vendors when it comes to MC? 

HV: The "small" start-ups are much more flexible and the most ones are really innovative. Some of them created completely new processes in production. The big ones are sluggish and need much, much more time to optimize their workflow or offers. Moreover I had the feeling that they are spoilt of the easy way to sell their mass-products. If there is a problem they stop the experiment mass customization or don't even start.

FTP: Do you have anything planned for egoo.de? Are any new services or projects to be expected?

HV: There are many optimizations for the directory planned. The next step is to persuade more vendors to provide a customer-friendly returning policy which will be signalized with an egoo seal and integrate customer reviews in the directory.

FTP: Heiko, thank you very much! I am looking forward to your upcoming articles and to follow your next projects!  And a note for anyone in the mass customization field: Support Heiko by cooperating with him, linking to his blog, and providing him with info and perhaps paid ads. As without a large consumer-focused portal, we will never shift MC consuption to a higher level!

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.