Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

Manufacturers and Retailers have come a long way since Henry Ford famously stated 100 years ago, “You can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black!” Customisation is a means for a customer to fulfil their ultimate product fantasy, from fast-food to the perfect pair of trainers, customers can now create a product they can truly call their own.

Blue hand being 3D printed

Customising in 3D

Getting away from burgers, for many retailers and manufacturers, customisation will be essential to survival. Clothing, accessories and footwear were retail categories at the leading edge of customisation, which makes sense when you consider that these items are important means of personal self-expression. Customisation enables people to wear the right fashion item and be 'on trend', while at the same time be unique by giving that item a personal tweak. Sometimes it is more than just a tweak though. For example, you can custom-design your own shoes from the heel up at Shoes of Prey and have them manufactured and delivered within four weeks. Nike shoppers in the US can use NIKEiD to customise their athletic shoes.

Another technology enabler for customisation is 3D printing. Amazon.com has a 3D Printing Store in which the shopper can customise 27 items, mainly jewellery. You can also purchase a 'shelfie' here – 3D-printed miniatures of yourself to put on your mantelpiece at home. (Of course, Amazon being Amazon, you can also purchase a variety of non-customised 3D-printed products, along with the printers themselves, computer design software, and manuals to help you do it all.) Other sites, such as i.materialise, Shapeways and Thingify, are online platforms enabling people to turn their own concepts into 3D-printed reality. They are also online marketplaces for all kinds of 3D-printed products. But if you are a retailer, you might be wary of hype when it comes to 3D printing. The technology is still very immature and has not addressed engineering issues that prevent it from churning out anything more than very basic outputs. So don’t worry – a Star Trek-style replicator is still years away.

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