Since the ad's launch in the 1970s, Burger King has provided customers the ability to "have it your way" and has served burgers to their personal tastes. As this example shows, the concept of personalizing a brand experience has been around for decades. Today, customization is commonplace for a variety of goods from cars to jeans to computers to many others. Technological advancements are making it easier and more cost-effective for brand owners to reach consumers on a more personal level. However, the expectation of tailored products and services has especially blossomed in the digital and 3D printing age. So what's next? We're now seeing a trend where products go beyond mass customization to individualization, truly meeting the needs of each unique person.
Let's look at one of Germany's leading drugstores Drogerie Market, or more commonly known as, DM. It has developed a smartphone app that allows customers to produce their own personal care products. Customers can select from a range of options, their favorite shower gel, for example, and then choose from a set of fragrance choices, which is typical of the mass customization approach. The individualization happens with the product's package design. Customers then use the app to create labels from scratch, which are then printed and shipped directly to them. This whole new level of customization allows customers to incorporate their photos and drawings, putting the entire design in their hands. Customers can use these items as decorative displays in their homes or give them as gifts. Moreover, DM's approach connects consumers to products in an individual and special way. It is truly making personal care products "personal" and building engagement and loyalty with consumers.
This company, which prides itself on a personalized customer service approach to online retail, is offering free, individualized fashion advice. Zappos customers who post selfies on Instagram can use the hashtag #NEXTOOTD to have a Zappos stylist review their Instagram history and respond with clothing and accessory suggestions based on the individual's tastes and personal style. Currently there is no cost for this service, unlike similar styling services, such as Stitch Fix, which does charge fees for their fashion guidance. This human-to-human customer service model has been key to Zappos' online success. With this styling service, Zappos is further extending its approach to provide one-on-one recommendations. In doing so, the company is establishing a unique, individualized relationship with its customers, offering products that are specific to their likes and tastes, and, in turn, maximizing its own profits.
Individualization is not only being seen in drugstore chains and fashion websites, but in the home improvement arena as well. Lowe's has developed a "Holoroom" that allows customers to input their room specifications into an iPad, choose from Lowe's fixtures and finishes, and then step into a holographic room that displays "their" room as they've recreated it. This simulation program allows Lowe's to provide a highly individual experience for consumers.
Similarly, IKEA has also focused on the individual through an app that allows users to visualize what a piece of furniture from the catalog would look like in their own homes. This solution allows customers to match color and style to what they already have in their rooms, providing a unique, in-home shopping experience. Though they have a slightly different approach, each of these shopping experiences provides consumers with opportunities to test out how products will look in their own homes, ensuring that their distinct, individual needs are met.
Retail sectors are focusing their marketing efforts on individualized products and shopping experiences to engage consumers in highly personal ways. However, with this new level of one-to-one interaction, marketers must also consider the costs. Addressing the needs of each consumer can involve significant investments in technology and personnel. As the "me-conomy" continues to grow and consumers continue to demand greater and greater personalization, brand owners must weigh the cost of delivering individualized, not just mass-customized, products against higher costs. They must also consider if and how much of the costs should be passed on to the consumer: That is, how much are consumers willing to pay for individualized services and products? Though costs must be carefully considered, the benefits may far exceed the investment. Brands that can speak and engage with a consumer on an individual level are likely to build greater consumer loyalty, thereby generating stronger sales.
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