MC Alternatives: Hipstery adds a new twist to t-shirt personalization – and Additik pimps your IKEA furniture

I am still finalizing a report about the SCS 2010 (in one word: it was great!), but before, here a posting with some alternatives to mass customization, i.e. business strategies that also build on the fact that people are different, but follow a different model than customizing an item for an individual consumer and fulfilling it with on-demand manufacturing. I recently got notice of two good MC alternatives:

MC Alternative I: Hipstery's match-to-order system

Hipstery_sticker_thumb Long-time readers of my blog will remember Adam Fletcher (and everyone interested in t-shirts will know him anyway). We had a wonderful cooperation when he was still working for Spreadshirt and directed the OpenLogo contest (and before, when he was writing his master's thesis on a very educated comparison of customization of shirts and Threadless' crowdsourcing model).

After some time travelling, Adam came back and opened, a small venture that is very anti-customization in a way, but also somehow very pro-personalization in another.

His idea: Head to his nice retro-design website, answer a brief questionnaire on the net, and his magic algorithm (his stomach, I suppose) will pick exactly the graphic t-shirt that is right for you. He wants to take away the burden of choice (in a standard t-shirt shop) or the burden of co-creation (on a mass customization site) and to substitute it with a short survey on your needs.

I participated and got a really nice shirt I like. Calling this model "consumerism criticism", as the German weekly DER SPIEGEL did, is probably wrong. On the contrary, it is a very nice business model: Adam get's the overstock from nice t-shirt companies, adds the personalization magic and a very well done, very humorous and nice shopping process, and creates a great customer experience – and sells the shirts at a premium.

A similar (if more technical) personalization system (also called: "match-to-order" or "virtual build-to-order) employs Zafu (jeans). Also in the case of Dell Computers, it has been shown that such a need-based personalization is superior to parameter-based configuration: Instead of picking your hard-disk model and process speed, the system just asks you which software you want to run and what is your price range, and then automatically suggests you the best fitting product.

This kind of recommendation systems is a growing species on the internet, and when well done, it also can provide a great alternative to "hard" mass customization, i.e. mass customization that requires a flexible manufacturing system for fulfillment. In many industries, the existing assortment is large enough to fulfill each individual's need. The problem is just to find the right item – and to know on the first hand what the right item is. Here Adam comes in place!

MC Alternatives (II): Additik tunes your IKEA furniture

Additik-stval02 A long time ago, I wrote about Bemz, a Swedish shop that offers its customers to tune ("pimp") their IKEA standard sofas with customized covers. It is a great idea, using the de-facto standard of IKEA and adding some personal touch. In the meantime, an entire industry of IKEA improvements came to the market.

A new player is Additik from France who offers stickers for IKEA furniture. While the basic idea is good, the design quality (in my subjective opinion) does not matches Bemz' sophisticated Scandinavian design. Another nice alternative to traditional mass customization.More on the business model in my older posting.

So while mass customization in form of "co-creation" and "build to order" still is growing rapidly, we will see more alternative models that also want to profit from heterogeneity in the customer domain.

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.