Calling all product strategists at big name clothing and apparel companies: If you work at the likes of Gap, Macy's, Nordstrom, or American Eagle Outfitters, we at Forrester think you are currently missing out on an opportunity to delight customers, generate new revenue, and differentiate your offerings. We’ve been writing about why now is the time to experiment with mass-customized product offerings – customer-facing digital technologies have reached the point where customization is easy to deliver, and customers increasingly expect products and services will be tailored to their desires and needs.
Now it’s time for product strategists at big name clothing and retail companies to give mass customization another shot. Levi’s once offered customized jeans (from 1993-2003), but the offering was too far ahead of the curve – it didn’t have the opportunity to leverage the type of digital configuration experiences available today, and it didn’t offer buyers choice in features they wanted (like color).
We know that product strategists who want to offer mass-customized clothing and apparel products face customers who are stuck in an off-the-shelf comfort zone. We know that this customer resistance is holding back some product strategists at big brand-name clothing companies. Yet the return on investment could be significant. Incorporating customization into your product strategy will enhance current customer relationships and attract new customers that, up to now, have not been able to find what they want or need from your products.
As is often the case with mass customization, some plucky startup pure-players are showing bigger companies how this might be done. Companies like Blank Label, FashionPlaytes, Fits.me, J Hilburn, Laudi Vidni, and Vastrm each offer lessons in different aspects of how to create mass-customized clothing offerings. Product strategists at big-name firms should look to these companies for inspiration.
One consistent learning from these startups? Fit is more important than style. Customized clothing should solve a unique user need – one not easily replicated through mass production. From a customer’s standpoint, why wait weeks to receive a built-to-order garment when there are dozens of choices available off the shelf? Custom fit honors the diversity of body shapes and sizing among consumers and represents a point of clear differentiation against off-the-shelf clothing options, as this example from Proper Cloth demonstrates:
In the near future, devices like Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect and 3D cameras built into mobile phones will offer an even better route to assess fit – literally scanning the bodies of prospective buyers.
We’ve just released a full new report on this topic for Forrester clients, which can be found here. We also welcome your feedback and comments — do mass-customized clothing products have a bright future?