What is mass customization?: Creating unique products to meet individual customer preferences

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What is mass customization?

Mass customization is an approach for creating individual products – each item produced can be specifically made (or modified) to the specific requirements of a customer. The approach looks to combines the cost benefits of ‘mass’ manufacturing with the personalization feasible with bespoke (or customized) production. While each product is unique, the approach aims to keep the associated manufacturing costs down by specifying defined dimensions on which the product can be customized, and typically automating the manufacturing process so as to remove coordination difficulties or substantial manual labor costs associated with customized production. 

How is mass customization different from bespoke products?

The primary way that mass customization differs from bespoke products (i.e., made-to-order or commissioned products), is that customization is typically only available on specific, pre-determined dimensions. While there may be thousands of possible combinations of possible attributes that the customer can select, it is typically only possible to customize the product on those attributes that have been chosen. That is, it is not possible for customers to select different things that they want to adapt and adjust.

This key distinction allows mass-customization to achieve some economies of scale typically associated with mass manufacturing. Production may be automated, allowing continual production of the goods – there is no need for manual involvement to make changes.

Possible attributes suited to mass customization

Key to the success of mass customization is ensuring that the dimensions on which the product can be varied are both 1) easy to adapt in the manufacturing process, and 2) dimensions that the customers would like want to choose themselves. Possible dimensions that meet these criteria include:

  1. The size of the products: Potentially allowing customization to fit a customer or the location that they intend to place the item
  2. Color options
  3. Material choices
  4. Surface finish
  5. Engraved text or logos

Final thoughts: Make sure that the dimensions chosen are dimensions that customers would value customization on

A danger with mass customization is getting carried away – thinking of all kinds of ways that the product can be varied. Unless these are actually dimensions that the customer values, however, it is unlikely that they will be willing to pay a premium for the customized good. Indeed, you may just be adding some degree of compilation to your order and manufacturing process with little direct benefit. The not thing is not what whether it is possible to offer variations, but rather, are they dimensions that the customer wants.