One Size Fits None

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” -Henry Ford, 1909

The car world is an interesting analogue to the clothing world. Just as every driver has different commutes and passenger requirements, every person is of different shapes and proportions (how’s THAT for a two sentence segue?). To satisfy different torsos and tastes, the fashion world offers bespoke and tailor services, but mass market “made to measure” customization doesn’t exist yet. Yet, in light of internet advancements and supply chain trailblazers, many clothing brands are trending towards product customization.

Mass customization is a two step process. Firstly, it involves the customer’s participation in discovering and designing a product that will fit her or his needs. Secondly, it involves a company building a made to order product for delivery to a customer. The first step of the process faces many hurdles. Customers struggle to understand customization choices, and once they do, they struggle to make customization decisions. And implicitly, companies struggle to explain customization choices. The second step of the process also faces hurdles. Companies struggle to produce custom products at scale, and customers are often unwilling (or unable) to wait for products to be delivered. Notwithstanding, advancements in web development and supply chain pioneers are lowering these hurdles.

Firstly, as the internet has offered improved user experiences, clothing brands from Louis Vuitton to Nike have started to experiment with customization focused web tools. Web tools make it easier than ever for a shopper to decide among customization options, and even to seek advice from fellow friends and shoppers. Secondly, in the past ten years clothing companies have placed unprecedented focus on supply chain efficiency that reduces inventory and decreases product lead time (the time it takes a product to go from inception to delivery). Zara in particular leads its market in inventory turn (how quickly stores sell inventory) and cash flow conversion (the time it takes to convert raw materials to cash), and competitors are scrambling to catch up. Such innovation has pushed the corporate finger closer to the fashion pulse and has forced companies to deliver goods more quickly. Both trends are good for clothes wearers everywhere, but are they relevant (or achievable) for drivers?

Automakers are testing custom order fulfillment strategies and customer customization preferences. On the fulfillment-front, BMW installs options at the factory, whereas Toyota installs options at the port, after a car has left the factory. BMW has actually installed cameras in factories, and it alerts custom order buyers when their car is being assembled so that they can watch live via webcam. Regarding customer preference research, Ford recently introduced a Mustang design challenge, and Chevrolet introduced a revamped Corvette customization tool (both models are frequently custom ordered). Will these tools and trends promote the custom order car concept in a meaningful way down the road? We think so, eventually.

“(what’s admired in fashion is people simultaneously) looking on trend and beyond trend, and totally themselves.”  -Anna Wintour, 2008



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