October 28, 2004, 12:00 AM


(Page 3 of 3)

Her second warning is about the critical importance of capturing personalization information accurately. Even when customers enter that information themselves on a web site, checks and balances still are needed to ensure it`s been entered correctly, she says. "Once we`ve personalized an item, we`re not going to take it back unless there is a defect that is our error. So the challenge is to design something that captures the most information with the least number of templates, making it efficient on the back end, while still making it very easy for the customer to understand."

The Dell lesson

Tell consumers that they can get a custom garment produced to their specifications with a minimum of fuss and at a reasonable price, and most will jump at it, according to Archetype`s Holloway. Take the time to add personalized art or photos to the cookie tin a consumer sends a spouse on Valentine`s Day, and it communicates an extra degree of thoughtfulness, says ChipNDough`s Snyder. Get the baby`s name onto the pacifier, says Bhappy, and you`ve solved a problem for Mom.

Uniqueness, the need to feel special, the ability to keep one`s own possessions from getting lost in the crowd--these are attributes that consumers see in personalized and custom products, and it`s value for which they are willing to pay. Those desires on consumers` part are nothing new, but the web`s power to help retailers fill them is. And as the cost of the enabling technology drops and consumers` comfort level with online shopping keeps rising, "custom" could become standard, perhaps in the way that Holloway envisions

"Dell redefined the way people buy computers," he says. "We want to do the same thing with apparel."


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