Is mass customization the future of manufacturing? Probably not – why most production won’t be custom

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Mass customization – the possibility of customizing products to meet the specific needs of customers – presents exciting possibilities. There are however significant costs associated with mass customization. This article explores some of the opportunities – but also the limits – of mass customization. 

The opportunity of mass customization

The key opportunities for mass customization come for areas that i) customers can benefit from customizations and ii) have dimensions that can be customized on. Some possibilities include:

  • Customized medical devices​
  • Personalized shoes and clothing​
  • Unique decorative items​: A final example of products well suited to mass customization is unique decorative items for around the home. Taste is very subjective, and individuals can have a strong desire for unique items. 

The limits of mass customization

While it is easy to get excited about the possibilities of mass customization – getting everything personalized to exactly how we want it – it is also important to recognize that most items are unlikely to benefit from personalization.

If you look around your office or home, while there may be some items that are either custom or there may be some benefits if there were greater customization options, the majority of products you see will likely be off-the-shelves items. The truth is, that for many items, there are only limited opportunities for customizations. For many items, offering a limited choice of colors or sizes is sufficient to cater to the vast majority of customer preferences – with an unlimited number of possible adaptations bringing little additional value.

Indeed, while there may be some situations where mass customization brings significant benefits, for most day-to-day items, the benefits of customizing the item to order are very slim, outweighed by the additional costs or delays associated with mass customization

Reflecting on the possibilities - it is important to consider whether the product is suited to customization

Although it seems unlikely that all, or even a majority, of the products that customers buy, will be mass-customized, there are certain areas where individualized products may have significant benefits or higher profit opportunities. The key thing to consider is the match between whether customers would derive greater value (and be willing to pay a premium) for a customized product – and whether it is possible to easily customize the manufacturing process to offer individually manufactured products at a reasonable cost.