Nov 25, 2014

Paul Sherratt of Solutions for Sport examines the growing demand for customised sports products

When NIKEiD was launched in 2006, we witnessed one of the first attempts at allowing the end consumer to customise the products they purchased. Eight years later and customisation is reaching critical mass. From breakfast cereals and decorated cakes to vitamins and luxury cars, customers can now create a product they can truly call their own.

In the past, retailing and manufacturing was predicated on scale, with companies mass producing goods to achieve efficiency. Customisation was rarely an option. As Henry Ford famously said: “You can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black.”

Key innovations trend
Customisation has been around for a long time, so why is it continuing to appear as a key innovations trend? Thanks to digital technology, operational efficiencies and advanced manufacturing capabilities, more and more retailers are in a position to satisfy customised product orders. Today’s retailers are closer to their end consumer through social media and are moving their customisation capabilities from clicks to bricks and creatively harnessing social mediums to procure feedback, interest and brand advocacy.

The result of these changes has allowed such a service to be offered at a much lower cost, while at the same time creating an exciting point of difference. Many specialist sports retailers are seizing this opportunity and applying customisation principles to give their customers enhanced value. Customisation of, for example, football boots and goalkeeper’s gloves are now core added value elements for football specialists.

Of course, this is just adding items such as names and initials to the product. At the manufacturing level, pure customisation is available in terms of colour and design.

It was, in fact, adidas, not Nike that was the first to investigate customisation within the sporting goods market. In 2000 a pilot programme was launched called miadidas with the aim of identifying the feasibility of developing a customised product line. Today the miadidas range has over 5,000 product lines.

Since the launch of miadidas, its fulfilment process has been improved continuously. Arguably, this is one of the greatest challenges in developing a mass customisation offer.

miadidas starts with a configuration process between the consumer and adidas via some form of interface. A customer order then has to be processed by the brand’s order management system. This triggers a manufacturing process within a corresponding production facility. The process ends with the distribution of the final product to the end consumer after manufacturing has been completed.

All these elements bring their own challenges. However, it is feasible for even the smallest brands to embrace them and develop a customisation strategy.

In previous articles I have highlighted the current trends within the European sporting goods market and the decision facing brands about whether to sell direct or not. adidas’ strategy is to drive increased levels of direct-to-end-consumer sales via mono stores or online. Customisation is a perfect companion to this approach.

The process of customisation not only brings the end consumer emotionally closer to the product and brand, but also enables data capture and the subsequent ability for the brand to reconnect directly with the end user at a later date, which is perfect for new product launches and special offers, for example.

The emotional element of customisation, in terms of connection, can be a key driver even for those brands that want to use the approach as a marketing exercise. It can be the first step to developing a direct-to-end-consumer strategy that doesn’t affect established distribution channels or be complementary to a selective distribution strategy.

In the second example, a brand may decide it wants to create a customisation programme, but for the transaction and delivery to be completed by a specific retail partner or partners. The end consumer can therefore customise his product, the retailer can offer a point of difference and the brand can drive targeted marketing activity through the project.

Here to stay
Customisation is here to stay, whether it is at an independent retail level with the use of embroidery/embellishment machinery offering the ability to add names and initials or a fully customised product designed and created exclusively for an end user.

As part of a future brand strategy and perhaps as a way for a brand to begin to explore direct selling to the end user, it can provide a strong marketing platform and point of difference from competitors, as well as create enhanced emotional attachment for the consumer towards the brand.

As manufacturing and fulfilment processes become more sophisticated, customisation will undoubtedly become more important within the sporting goods industry. Those brands and retailers that embrace this trend today, will very likely reap the benefits tomorrow.


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