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The world of online retail has become dense with competition. There are thousands, if not millions, of online storefronts for every product, service, or need you can think of. And all of them are scrambling to get more attention, more recognition, and — perhaps most importantly — customer loyalty. Of course, if you’ve been involved in online retail, this is already painfully clear.
To date, it’s come down to who can offer the best products, provide the best customer service, and of course, come out with the coolest and trendiest ad campaign. But now, the game is shifting toward a different set of priorities: customization and individualization.
Customization and Individualization in Online Retail
What exactly are customization and individualization, beyond fancy buzzwords? In this context, these concepts refer to products that are either designed specifically for individuals or marketed in unique ways to particular individuals. Rather than create a mass-market product that applies to the widest possible audience, you develop a product that’s customized to the person buying it. Alternatively, you could use targeted advertising strategies that showcase the product in a different light, depending on who’s viewing it.
According to Anish Godha, CEO of online jewelry retailer Diamondere, “For some customers, customization is everything. They don’t want something generic they could get off the shelf. They want something uniquely designed for them (or their partner).” There’s likely something every consumer would prefer to have custom-built, like a new car, a house, or a guitar. Something generic and mass-manufactured feels nearly antiquated in this era of instant gratification.
Even retailers boosted by artificial intelligence and algorithms cater to customization — in fact, they use this tech to add a human touch. They curate collections and offerings based on customer data, simplifying the selection process. “When retail curators gain momentum, the model could scale well globally, particularly in segments where products tend to have the same specifications in all markets, such as technology and some kinds of apparel,” explain Harvard Business Review’s Bobby Gibbs and Nick Harrison.
The Advantages of Customization
Customization is good; we can all accept that. But why is customization gaining such momentum in online retail?
Abundance, white noise, and a competitive advantage
Part of the problem is the sheer number of online retail options and the “white noise” effect that can crop up when too many companies are trying to market highly similar products. Customers feel bombarded by options that look practically the same — without differentiators, nothing stands out. Offering customers the option to customize their own product — or otherwise feel more acknowledged as an individual — is an easy way to gain an edge on your competition.
Customer needs, satisfaction, and loyalty
Customer loyalty certainly isn’t a given in the world of online retail; customers can easily look up prices with hundreds of different competitors in the span of a few minutes. They can instantaneously shop at stores from all over the world. Giving them the option to customize their product gives them a greater sense of investment and ownership with your company, and it makes them much more likely to be satisfied with the final product. Accordingly, you’ll have a much higher chance of gaining their business again or experiencing the “spread effect” of great word-of-mouth marketing.
Feedback loops and customer data
Every time a customer creates her own product or experiments with a different customization style, you get to take a snapshot of customer data. You can analyze that data for marketing and product development purposes, improving future sales. Letting customers get involved in the design process provides an R&D shortcut; over time, you’ll get to know them on a personal level.
The Barriers to Getting Started
That said, many entrepreneurs I know have experienced a few barriers to getting started, including:
Offering hyperpersonalized products requires you to know your demographics inside and out. And if you’re letting customers design their own products, you still need to know which variable options are most important for them to control. That’s why market research is such an important prerequisite.
You need to have a website, app, or other interface for your customers to engage with your offers on a personal level. Designing and implementing tech that provides a seamless experience (while collecting relevant data) can be challenging.
One reason why mass-marketing and generic product development have been popular is because of their scalability; if you’re making 10,000 identical products, you can grow your base of operations easily. If you’re designing 10,000 unique items for 10,000 individuals, things get trickier. Thankfully, better manufacturing tech is mitigating those costs.
The Changing Tide
It’s understandable to be intimidated by all of this, but the competitive pressure is growing. Soon, you may have little choice but to enter the fray and offer your own version of personalization. Fortunately, you’ll have many options, and you don’t have to implement everything at once. Depending on your business and your customers, you could start with something simple, like personalized messages or more color options, and expand from there.
Ready or not, the online retail world has already begun to shift toward more customization and more unique personal experiences. Companies that have plunged headfirst into these options have already found success, gaining a critical advantage over their competition. But for the time being, these remain something of a rarity.
Now’s the time to get the jump on your online retail competition. All you have to do is find ways to add more customization to your own storefront. As Gibbs and Harrison said, “The best way for retailers to protect themselves: Give customers good reasons to keep coming to them directly.”
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“Why Online Retail Entrepreneurs’ Future Depends On Customization” | Written By: Serenity Gibbons, Contributor / Forbes – Entrepreneurs
November 16, 2019 at 06:02AM
VIEW ARTICLE ON Forbes – Entrepreneurs >> https://www.forbes.com/sites/serenitygibbons/2019/11/16/why-online-retail-entrepreneurs-future-depends-on-customization/