Mass customization is a company’s ability to mass-produce goods and also address customization needs. In other words, it’s producing unique products at scale. For example, buyers looking to buy jeans may have their preferences. A particular group of buyers may like bell-bottoms; a few others may prefer slim-fit jeans. Some may also find carpenter jeans appealing. If a company manufactures all these styles in significant volumes, it’s a mass customizer.

Generally, products made using the mass customization model use a template or base that buyers can build upon, or deduct features from as per their requirements. At times, the manufacturer knows or assumes what the client wants. Products made courtesy mass customization could be pre-ordered or the manufacturer could research market trends and customize accordingly. And as the products are mass-produced, they are not priced significantly higher than mass-produced goods.

Types of Mass Customization

Mass customization could be of the following types:

  • Collaborative Customization

Companies work with individual buyers to churn out products that exactly meet custom requirements. This often entails sellers having a dialogue with buyers to help customers articulate their requirements, identifying offering(s) that fulfill those requirements precisely, and customizing products accordingly. Such customization helps when the buyers are unable to decide or are not content with the standard customization options available.

  • Adaptive Customization

Firms make standard or base products that the buyer customizes. This customization is a lot easier for the manufacturer to achieve. Also, the few customization choices don’t overwhelm the buyer much and render processing easy. Motorola’s Moto Maker is an excellent example of how adaptive customization worked. Adaptive customization is the more popular type as the production begins only after the order is being placed. As a result, there are minimal chances of the buyer not liking the customization, which means the chances of production waste or loss are low.

  • Transparent Customization

Transparent customization entails businesses customizing products for individual customers without the buyer’s knowledge. At times, the consumer may not notice the customizations even after having used the product. Such customization arrangements are usually possible if the customer buys frequently from the same seller, the seller deeply analyses the consumer, and/or if the buyer’s specific requirements can be easily predicted.

  • Cosmetic Customization

Cosmetic customization is essentially sellers presenting the product differently to different people. For instance, altering the packaging, adding the customer’s name to the item, etc. are cosmetic customizations. Such customization is viable only if the regular product satisfies the needs of almost all customers and just the product form requires customization.

Mass Customization Benefits

  • Efficiency

Mass customization enables a manufacturer to make customized products with the scale and efficiency synonymous with mass-produced goods. Mass customizers do not invest additional time and effort to erect a production setup for every order. Also, since the goods are made-to-order, there are fewer unfinished goods inventoried, helping decrease overhead costs.

  • Sense of Accomplishment

The customization process encourages creativity in buyers. Moreover, the entire designing experience provides clients a sense of accomplishment. This also adds a whole new dimension to the buying experience. If done right, mass customization could lead to increased customer satisfaction.

  • Higher Profits

The seller can afford to sell customized goods at a slightly premium price despite incurring costs similar to mass production. And the good news for sellers is customers seeking these customizations are willing to pay the premium. These higher price points naturally mean higher profits.

Mass Customization Challenges

  • Complex

Mass customization is certainly not as expensive as customizing a product right from scratch, but the process is still not as straightforward as mass production since there are minor-to-major alterations necessary in production and supply chain setups. And this complexity is the major reason why Dell, which once popularized customized computers, has gone back to selling preconfigured systems. That said, advanced software and flexible manufacturing systems are making mass customization less complicated.

  • Immediate Shipments Not Feasible

A mass customizer cannot ship a product immediately post order processing as the inventory only houses unfinished goods or base items pending customization. As a result, the wait time for the customer is higher compared to ordering mass-produced goods.

  • Doesn’t Suit All Product Categories

Such customization may not suit all types of products. The concept bodes well for luxury, high-end products but not basic goods, as people buying basic products are not really looking for customization. In other words, mass production would be there forever.

  • Product Return Challenges

When a customized product is liked by the buyer, everyone’s happy. But issues crop up when the product is returned. Returns are usually low as the products are made as per customer requirements. But if a product does get returned, the company finds itself in a spot as the chances of successfully selling the product to another buyer are fairly slim.

  • Requires Own Factory Setup

Mass customization is not possible if a company outsources its manufacturing jobs to a third party as the other manufacturer would be likely handling multiple clients, and altering production and supply chain setups for a particular client would not be feasible. In other words, any firm aspiring to be a mass customizer must ideally have a factory setup of its own.

Difference Between Mass Customization and Customized Product

Customized products are made for individual buyers, whereas mass-customized products intend to satisfy the needs of a group of buyers. Another major differentiator is a mass customizer churns out a lot more units per hour, day or week than companies that offer pure customization. Also, as aforementioned, pure customized products are usually sold at a premium as those are almost completely designed by and made for the buyer. But in case of mass customization, there are no premium price tags as the production costs aren’t significantly higher than mass production costs.