Mass Customization: Made to order Vs. Modified to order

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Mass customization is the attempt to combine both product customizations with mass manufacturing. By building in defined parameters that customers are able to customize, products can be produced to customer demands, without the costs associated with one-off production. This article explores two possible approaches that can be taken in order to achieve this mass customization: made to order and customized to order. 

The made-to-order and customized-to-order approaches to mass customization

The made-to-order flavor of mass-cutomization

The first approach to mass customization is to make the product to order – starting the manufacturing process once the order has been placed. While manufacturing is only started after the product is ordered, predefined customization options allowing for much greater automation than would be possible if each item was truly bespoke.

The customized-to-order flavor of mass-customization

The customized-to-order approach to mass customization is more in line with mass manufacturing, where the product (or at least a large proportion of it) is manufactured, with the customization occurring only at the final stage – potentially during the assembly of the product, or adding final details after the product is assembled. 

Benefits of the made-to-order approach

Greater customization

The first benefit of making a product to order is that it allows much greater degrees of customization. Options such as color or material choices can be offered or expanded – possibilities that are harder to provide with customization to order unless a significant amount of intermediary stock is held.

No stock holding

In addition to greater customization opportunities, is the fact that there is no stock holding required as part of made-to-order goods. Rather than investing capital in components that have yet to be ordered, making a product specifically for each order reduces the capital that is required – money is not tied up in stock. 

Increases the perception of the item being bespoke

Part of the reason why customers may be attracted to mass customization is the possibility of getting a unique item, that no one else has. Having a product made from scratch re-enforces this perception of getting something unique – simply getting a product with more superficial surface customizations may not feel as special. 

Benefits of modified-to-order approach

Quicker delivery times

One of the primary benefits of modifying a base product to order is that allows much quicker delivery times than may be achievable with making a product to order. 

Ability to produce the initially base product in bulk

The final benefit of modified to order is that the base product may be manufactured in bulk – potentially with significant economies of scale than if they are made individually. Indeed, it may be possible to subcontract the manufacture of the base product (potentially overseas), undertaking only the final customization stage in-house. 

Combining both made to order and modified to order

One alternative to pure made to order or purely customized to order to offer a hybrid of the two – certain options that can be made based on modifying a set base product, and while also offering greater customizations (for example on color breadth) that are made to order. This approach may allow you to both meet the needs of customers who desire the goods quickly while also satisficing customers who want greater options for their customization than can be realistically kept in stock for modification. 

Another hybrid is to straddle elements the two – to start the customization process mid-way through the manufacturing; that is, to conduct the earliest stages of the manufacturing process in advance, but to have a lot more ‘made-to-order’ elements than is traditional in the prototypical customized-to-order approach. 

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