5 Challenges of mass customization

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Challenge 1: Developing a platform for placing the custom order

The first challenges of mass customization begin at the point of a customer placing an order – your ordering system needs to be able to allow the various dimensions to be customized to be selected and ideally verified by the customer. Since mistakes – where the customer selects the wrong attributes – are both easy to make, and costly since the product can’t be easily resold – visual feedback, showing the customization in real-time is useful.

Challenge 2: Achieving low-cost operations, without confusion

The next challenge with mass customization is achieving low costs in the manufacturing operations, without confusion. Configuring the production line so that the majority of the manufacturing is automated is often a critical component of mass customization. This helps cut down on the labor to produce each product, while also eliminating many sources of confusion.

Having the operations configured with mass customization in mind is one way that the approach differs from bespoke production – where every product is made to order (and can be customized as the customer desires). Mass customization aims to strike the balance between mass production, and customization – achieving some of the benefits of mass production without the costs traditionally associated with bespoke manufacturing. 

Challenge 3: Tracking each order, so that the customer gets the right product

One of the key differences between mass customization and mass manufacturing is that each product now needs to be tracked through the manufacturing process. Any mistakes, where orders are mixed up, will result in a customer getting the wrong customization made, or even a completely different product delivered than they ordered.

Challenge 4: Ensuring the lead time on ordering the product is not too high

Since mass customization cannot rely on shipping products that have already been produced, developing an efficient production line with low lead times is important. Customers may be willing to wait longer for goods that are customized, but not the months lead time that it may traditionally take to go from raw materials to a final shipped product (particularly for overseas goods that may spend months in containers).

Challenge 5: Dealing with product returns

A final challenge associated with mass customization is determining what to do with orders that customers decided are not what they wanted, or simply have changed their mind on. While product returns are an issue that all retailers need to deal with, this challenge is exacerbated when the product is customized for each specific customer.

While it previously may have been possible to have resold the returned item, this becomes much less likely if it was a unique product. This challenge highlights the importance of ensuring that customers understand the product specifications that they are ordering, and any policies associated with whether or not they can return customized goods.