Retailer and manufacturer Wild Things LLC, which sells outdoor gear and apparel, plans to launch in early November a product configuration tool on its e-commerce site that will allow consumers to design customized jackets, says CEO Ed Schmults. Starting with three base styles of jackets, the company plans to eventually sell only custom products, eliminating excess inventory and exactly meeting consumers’ and retailers’ product demands, he says.
“I think this is the future; it takes a lot of risk out,” he says. “I’m not holding thousands of colors in my warehouse.” Nor are retailers holding excess stock of Wild Things inventory in their stores and warehouses, he adds.
On Nov. 8, in an exclusive-until-spring deal, Wild Things will also launch the tool for the same products with multichannel outdoor apparel retailer Moosejaw Mountaineering. In addition to allowing Moosejaw shoppers to buy custom Wild Things jackets from the retailer’s e-commerce site, Moosejaw’s store associates with web-enabled iPads will be able to help shoppers try on the jackets and then build custom versions via the Moosejaw web site, placing the order from the store, Schmults says. Wild Things plans to offer similar deals to other retailers once its exclusive arrangement with Moosejaw ends, he says.
The product configurator, built by Fluid Inc., displays images of a product that can be rotated 360 degrees. The presentation resembles a typical product page, with buttons on the right to select size and color, but many more options. Consumers start with a base style, then pick fabric, color, zipper, threading, hood, and pockets, and can add requests for monograms or other personalized features. They also pick the placement of each option, such as different colors on side and front panels or a pocket on the upper left versus a pair of hand-warmer pockets near the waist.
Each option includes information designed to help shoppers choose styles that suit their needs, such as describing the ideal jacket fabric for particular sports and outdoor conditions. The configurator updates a product’s price with each selection and, when the shopper is finished customizing a product, shows how much each option adds to the final price, Schmults says. He says he expects average order value will lift as consumers spend more for custom products. Shoppers can also take “snapshots” of their designs at any point and share them with friends by e-mail, text messages or social media; a button beneath the product image pops up a reel of all snapshots. Shoppers may also save designs for future purchase.
Wild Things spent the last few years preparing its manufacturing and warehouse facilities, all in the United States, to produce custom products, and all customer-designed goods will ship within two weeks, Schmults says. “It hasn’t been easy—if it was, someone would have done it already,” he says.
The on-demand tool costs about $100,000 annually for Fluid to host and update because each product addition requires significant development work, according to Neil Patil, chief product officer at Fluid. Schmults did not disclose the terms of the contract between Wild Things and Moosejaw, but says he sees future deals with retailers being based on revenue-share models.
Schmults also envisions exclusive product agreements, such as offering hot pink zippers or a particular style of fabric through only one retailer. Additionally, because Wild Things has set up its manufacturing operation to produce small quantities, he says it will be easier to test new materials. For instance, the company may product a small quantity of jackets with a new hood to test whether consumers like it, or allow a designer to experiment with a new type of performance fabric among Wild Things customers before mass producing it.