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Is mobile driving mass customization?

By Dave Sloan

The ecommerce market has expanded into a more interactive, personalized, build-to-order shopping experience. Many retailers are offering an online product customization experience, empowering customers to build-their-own rather than ordering standard products.  

Many examples can be found on the Facebook “Design-your-own” fan page. A few products that are pioneering the mass-customization movement include messenger bags and iPad sleeves (Rickshaw Bagworks), ice cream ( nutrition bars (Element Bars) and granola (Me and Goji).

Many food companies have also entered the build-your-own space. Dunkin’ Donuts put up a cool build-a-donut feature that runs as a contest.

Beyond the desktop computer, many popular iPhone applications allow customers to customize their own food as well. Will mobile or the desktop drive this mass-customization trend? And in many cases, why is mobile the best medium for the customization experience? 

Piece of cake
Put simply, building products on an iPhone is fast, fun and playful. 

At the writing of this column, the top paid kids game on the iPhone was “Cupcakes!” from Maverick Software. It costs 99 cents and is lots of fun. You can select baking paper, batter flavors, toppings, frosting and then “eat” the cupcake by poking it with your finger. Very clever.

The iPhone’s touch screen and application environment allow users to swish through carousel and paint options with the stroke of a finger. The experience is inherently customer friendly, with no instructions necessary. Examples include build-a-cupcake, build-a-salad and build-an-outfit.

As with most iPhone applications, the experience is graphically visual, fun and creates a compelling way to interact with a brand. There is no obvious click-to-buy call to action in most of these applications. Consumers can share their creation via Twitter and Facebook, or email an image of their creation to their friends.

Go figure
The emergence of many mass-customization mobile applications is a sign that consumers enjoy engaging with brands that allow them to create their own customization. 

Consumers have very high expectations in terms of the interaction experience.   

One of the keys to driving a successful mass customization initiative is to offer a very fun, fast and engaging product configuration experience. Consumers will respond to a great product configurator experience by driving more sales, adding more to their cart and generating buzz around your brand.

Of course, a slick Web site or iPhone application is not a successful mass-customization strategy on its own.  

A company that offers true customization needs to start with a focused business model and an operations and internal systems strategy that aligns with the end-to-end order and delivery system.

But for now, is it not fun to build cupcakes on the iPhone?

Dave Sloan is CEO of Treehouse Logic, a Menlo Park, CA-based developer of a mobile-friendly product configurator/ product finder solution. Reach him at [email protected].