Mass customization and the future of retail

More than ever, experience matters in retail. “There is no doubt we’ve seen a permanent shift in the way consumers shop and behave,” said Linda Kirkpatrick, executive vice president for U.S. market development with MasterCard, opening a keynote at Retail’s BIG Show. Consumers across all age groups are more willing to spend on experiences rather than things, and are more interested in retailers who offer personal, custom, digital and social experiences.

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

Shoes of Prey and Indochino, two companies that are creating customized products as well as unique and memorable experiences for customers, exemplify this concept. And in doing so, the companies are not only reimagining the customer experience, but the retail model itself. At Retail’s BIG Show, Jodie Fox, co-founder and chief creative officer for Shoes of Prey, and Drew Green, CEO of Indochino, discussed how experiential retailing is changing the industry and how mass customization and on-demand manufacturing is key to the future of retail.

Shoes of Prey, which launched seven years ago, allows shoppers to design their own shoes using digital tools that show how different materials, toe shapes, heels and other components can be combined to create a unique item. Indochino lets shoppers purchase custom suits just by inputting their measurements and choosing styles and fabrics. The suits are delivered to customers’ doors in just a few weeks for a lower cost than a traditional custom suit.

Technology is key to both brands’ customer experience. For Shoes of Prey, the technology gives customers the excitement of designing a unique shoe, seeing renderings come to life and getting exactly what they want. For Indochino, the appeal is not just ease and convenience, but fit and affordability. Technology on the back end allows both Shoes of Prey and Indochino to produce custom items more efficiently and affordably.

While mass customization on a product level might not initially seem practical for all retailers, Fox presented the idea of on-demand manufacturing and 3D printing capabilities opening up an exciting new world. “You can have infinite SKUs without the hassle of having all this inventory sitting around,” Fox said.

The experience is key for Indochino. “We think about our business as selling an experience as much as selling a product,” Green said.

“I think [on-demand manufacturing] will unleash an entirely new world of what it means for business models that we have around retail”

Jodie Fox
Shoes of Prey

While the company started online, it now operates stores where “style guides” help customers create the perfect suit. And while the company has experienced rapid growth, Green said an important aspect of keeping the customer experience focus is about company culture. “No matter what the size of the company … never lose that startup mentality and culture, despite how you grow,” he said.

But the experience must continue to evolve. Fox imagines a future of retail where someone can walk into their closet and tell a computer what they’d like to wear that day, factoring in weather conditions and what’s on the calendar, and the outfit prints out while they’re showering.

“The way we get to ideas like this is by putting customers at the heart of everything we do. You must put yourself in their shoes and think about what makes it fun, what makes it convenient? What would be the most extraordinary, seamless way she could experience it?” Fox said.

The on-demand production model presents many challenges, and both companies are continuing to improve the production process, with goals to deliver products faster and more efficiently.

“I think [on-demand manufacturing] is going to be a really tough nut to crack,” Fox said, “but it will unleash an entirely new world of what it means for business models that we have around retail.”

Tailoring the 21 Century Customer Experience

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