Absolutely! I recently see better matching-systems for standard products as a strong alternative to mass customization. Within an assortment (of pre-fabricated products), customer specific choices/options are recommended. Consider My Virtual Model (mvm.com), a matching service for fashion retailers and the appliance industry. MVM enables consumers, either on its own site or on the sites of its clients, to build themselves in a virtual model (an avatar), by selecting different body types, hair styles, face characteristics, etc. Consumers also type in their basic measurements so that the virtual model represents their body measurement. In addition, customers can specify what kind of “fit” they prefer (loose, comfort, tight, etc.) so that the recommendations provided do not only fit the customer in terms of sizes and appearance, but also in terms of how they do feel inside the garment.
When MVM started offering virtual avatars in 1999, they looked more like a curious oddity. But now their avatars are used by more than 12 millions individual users. Companies such as Adidas, Best Buy, Levis, Sears and H&M are using these virtual models to generate business and stronger ties to their customers, lured by the increase in such metrics as average order value and conversion.
Another great example is Zafu.com. Finding the right size of a pair of jeans is a challenge for many women. The answer of mass customization is taking a customer’s measurements and making a custom pair of jeans for her. Zafu offers a different approach. From the customer perspective, the experience starts similarly. Zafu asks women shoppers eleven questions about how they prefer jeans to sit on their hips or waist to create a body profile. In addition, they ask for some basic body measurements.
But instead of using this information to create a custom cut, they match it with a large database of proprietary fitting information about the jeans of more than 30 major brands. This database contains hundreds of styles, from broadly marketed Gap to pricey designer labels. The consumer then gets a list of ranked results, linked with the brand’s website to purchase.
Zafu’s personalization service is an alternative model to conventional mass customization. It may not have the inventory advantages and value prepositions of mass customization, but is much easier to implement and is a much faster scalable system. For consumers, such a matching service also implies less waiting time as well as no price premiums associated with custom products.
But both models supplement each other: For most consumers, a better matching service like MVM or Zafu will provide sufficient value. For others, however, the ultimate product still will be the truly custom jean––providing not only perfect fit, but also the hedonistic satisfaction connected with a custom product. Zafu is well positioned to profit from this trend. The company is owned by Archtetype, a major enabler of true mass customization for the clothing industry. Thus, they easily can refer a customer finding no fitting piece in Zafu’s database of the existing assortment of standard products to the custom clothing offerings.
I predict that we will see many more examples of these matching services as they offer companies to profit better from what they already have: vast assortments of existing goods. The result may be a new understanding of mass customization, beyond its roots in on-demand manufacturing and product design. In the end, it is the customer who drives the business. And customers are not differentiating between personalized, customized, or standardized offerings. I believe that we will need a broader understanding of mass customization. And I am excited to work on this challenge in the coming years.