by Briana Campbell (@msmatchgirl)
The quest for originality is nothing new. Americans love nothing more than to be unique. From mainstream brands taking a cue from the street style of NYC hip hop culture – bringing individuality to the masses – to smaller start-ups offering customized products to fill a void, the thirst for customization is only growing.
At a time where one can get everything from candy to condoms made to exact specifications, why would anyone want to jump into this mix? Better question: How are smart companies using customization to their advantage?
Sales are not the point of customization.
I’ll say it again.
Sales are not the point of customization. The point of customization is engagement. It’s highlighting great customer service. It’s showing the consumer that you care about their wants and needs and ensuring that they can have it their way. This is what brings brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is what brings the sales. The savvy retailer knows this. The smart retailer uses it to their advantage.
Some brands are built entirely on customization. Build-A-Bear Workshop has been in business since 1997, offering children a place to go and pick out -from a range of animal designs, accessories, colors and clothing – and build their new “best friend”. They’re wildly successful because they keep evolving – showing up in ballparks and zoos – tweaking the accessories available to children, according to the location of the shop and what’s culturally popular at the time.
Companies like Café Press and Zazzle offer a range of ready-to-order products and loads more that are available for customization. And while the consumer cannot add just anything to, say, a Ked sneaker, they are able to upload their own artwork and designs to make something that is truly special and entirely their own. Threadless engages via social networking, allowing the consumer to vote on their favorite design, from those submitted by artists world wide – the design with the most votes is the one that is produced. The T-shirts keep selling because people love to feel included. They love to know they are part of a special community – and that the shirts are limited in edition.
Iconic brands are using customization to engage consumers as well. Nike has had NikeID for a decade now, allowing people to choose from several popular sneaker styles and choose colors, laces and text to make their Air Jordans their own. Levi’s was also an early adopter of personalization and customization, starting their “personal pair” program in 1995, a program where the consumer could get measured and fitted for a pair of jeans that would fit their specific proportions better than the standard 501s. While Levi’s no longer offers that program, they’ve evolved with the trend of customization, recently launching Curve ID. Honda offers the Element, an SUV that people can configure to fit their personal lifestyle and needs, and Dell computers has long offered customers the opportunity to build a computer that will meet their needs – be it gaming, studying or a million PowerPoint presentations.
Why do huge brands feel the need to offer these services? Why bother? Everyone knows Nike, Levi’s, Honda and Dell, right?
Of course they do. That’s not the point. Because while a custom-fitted pair of jeans or a one-of-a-kind SUV is not for everyone, the lure of that unique item is most certainly going to drive traffic to the store, to the website. Smart retailers will pique the interest of consumers by offering the chance of customization, and by showing off the great items they have on offer for immediate purchase.
The opportunity to engage with the consumer is the key to customization. And that engagement can only lead to more sales.