Mass Personalization: An Emerging Trend and What it Means for Supply Chains
What is Mass Personalization?
Personalization is formally defined as “the act of tailoring a product or service based on what customers desire.” Most companies that incorporate personalization have a base product that shoppers can customize as they’re checking out. Manufacturers are able to produce large quantities of the base product and only add personalizations when they’re ordered.
Mass personalization takes the idea of products being uniquely catered to consumers by making the product itself customizable. Rather than having an element of the product that can be personalized (like adding embroidered initials to a pre-set backpack), the entire thing is curated based on the specific wants and needs of the customer placing the order.
Do you remember The Jetsons? This popular television show from the 1960’s was set in the year 2062. It imagined a world where a family could sit down to dinner and “select” what they wanted to eat from a machine and their order would be magically printed out. Mass customization is a step closer to realizing this lofty dream of instant, customizable customer satisfaction. Today, mass personalization has been adopted by companies selling hair products, skincare and even vitamins.
An example of a modern mass personalization company is Take Care Of, a vitamin brand that has customers answer questions based on their values, goals, and lifestyle to create a custom daily plan involving vitamins, proteins and/or collagens. The name of the customer is printed on each daily package as well.
How Does Mass Personalization Impact Supply Chains?
Mass personalization is a great way for customers to have an experience catered to their individual needs, but it demands a lot more work from supply chains. With the result of each question leading to a different product recommendation, companies need to have a large number of product variations on hand. Instead of following a traditional manufacturing model and having an excessive amount of inventory to support custom orders, many companies are starting to explore on-demand manufacturing. This type of production leverages new technology like 3D printing to make necessary order customizations without keeping so many variations on-hand.
The technology behind on-demand manufacturing is still being developed, leaving many businesses to rely on the abilities of their machines. Flexible systems make it possible for manufacturers to produce larger numbers of smaller, individualized orders. These machines will be especially helpful for companies within the consumer industry as the shift towards mass personalization becomes more widespread.
Mass customization complicates the distribution of products too. Say a company has 3D printed a specific item for a customer, they can’t simply ship a version from the nearest distribution center. Instead, they have to work to ship that item all the way through the final mile. That might mean shipping from the manufacturing site in California to the consumer is Maine. If the company hadn’t been customizing the product, they could have had a warehouse in Massachusetts to cross-dock out of instead.
Tracking customized products is even more important than tracking regular ones. Say there is a mix-up on the dock and a customer receives someone else’s item, they will return the product and it will be up to the company to try to trace where their original one has gone. It’s likely that the erroneous product will end up in OS&D instead of in the hands of who it was meant for. This means starting the customization effort fresh and wasting money and time. Shipping customized products effectively as possible can be a challenge, but it can be even more important than with regular goods.
How Can Companies Selling Mass Customized Products Set Themselves Up for Success?
Companies implementing a mass personalization business model have to ensure their supply chains are equipped to handle a large number of product variations that each have their respective inventory sizes. Product needs to be transported effectively and efficiently. By leveraging transportation technology, mass personalization companies can ship a large number of product variations at the lowest possible cost. Supply chain visibility gives them access to real-time tracking information so they can make sure each portion of their inventory ends up at the right place and provide customers with accurate estimated arrival dates and updates.
Consumers are learning to expect more than a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to picking products and making purchases. As the mass personalization trend continues to take over, companies need to leverage technology to have complete control and visibility over their supply chains to keep everything running smoothly!