MC Alternative I: Hipstery's match-to-order system
Long-time readers of my blog will remember Adam Fletcher (and everyone interested in t-shirts will know him anyway). We had a wonderful cooperation when he was still working for Spreadshirt and directed the OpenLogo contest (and before, when he was writing his master's thesis on a very educated comparison of customization of shirts and Threadless' crowdsourcing model).
After some time travelling, Adam came back and opened Hipstery.com, a small venture that is very anti-customization in a way, but also somehow very pro-personalization in another.
His idea: Head to his nice retro-design website, answer a brief questionnaire on the net, and his magic algorithm (his stomach, I suppose) will pick exactly the graphic t-shirt that is right for you. He wants to take away the burden of choice (in a standard t-shirt shop) or the burden of co-creation (on a mass customization site) and to substitute it with a short survey on your needs.
I participated and got a really nice shirt I like. Calling this model "consumerism criticism", as the German weekly DER SPIEGEL did, is probably wrong. On the contrary, it is a very nice business model: Adam get's the overstock from nice t-shirt companies, adds the personalization magic and a very well done, very humorous and nice shopping process, and creates a great customer experience – and sells the shirts at a premium.
A similar (if more technical) personalization system (also called: "match-to-order" or "virtual build-to-order) employs Zafu (jeans). Also in the case of Dell Computers, it has been shown that such a need-based personalization is superior to parameter-based configuration: Instead of picking your hard-disk model and process speed, the system just asks you which software you want to run and what is your price range, and then automatically suggests you the best fitting product.
This kind of recommendation systems is a growing species on the internet, and when well done, it also can provide a great alternative to "hard" mass customization, i.e. mass customization that requires a flexible manufacturing system for fulfillment. In many industries, the existing assortment is large enough to fulfill each individual's need. The problem is just to find the right item – and to know on the first hand what the right item is. Here Adam comes in place!
MC Alternatives (II): Additik tunes your IKEA furniture
A long time ago, I wrote about Bemz, a Swedish shop that offers its customers to tune ("pimp") their IKEA standard sofas with customized covers. It is a great idea, using the de-facto standard of IKEA and adding some personal touch. In the meantime, an entire industry of IKEA improvements came to the market.
A new player is Additik from France who offers stickers for IKEA furniture. While the basic idea is good, the design quality (in my subjective opinion) does not matches Bemz' sophisticated Scandinavian design. Another nice alternative to traditional mass customization.More on the business model in my older posting.
So while mass customization in form of "co-creation" and "build to order" still is growing rapidly, we will see more alternative models that also want to profit from heterogeneity in the customer domain.