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Sleep Expert: The Rise Of Fit-Based Mass Personalization Is Here

Sleep Expert: The Rise Of Fit-Based Mass Personalization Is Here
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Adam Tishman, Helix Co-Founder, explores how direct-to-consumer companies will offer more personalized experiences and products to consumers in 2017

PSFK Op-Eds
  • 27 february 2017

The writing is on the wall. If you’re not building products—both digital and physical—with the understanding that consumers are more demanding than ever before, you’ve missed the point. Unbridled access to information, mixed with intense competition from all angles, has raised the bar. One key trend that has emerged from this new paradigm is an ever-increasing desire for products and services that are customized to each individual.

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If you read the paragraph above and it comes as a surprise to you, then that would come as a surprise to me. Of course, consumers have more access and information than ever before. Yes, it’s competitive. And absolutely, people like products and services that are custom-made for them. Show me the man who prefers off-the-rack suits to custom-made ones and I’ll show you a poorly dressed liar.

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The fact that people inherently want customized products is not a trend. It’s not even trendy. There is a nuanced answer here. It’s about how direct-to-consumer companies have learned to take customization a level past “do you want a red or blue stripe on your sneaker?” It’s about recognizing that taste is different than fit, and figuring out how to balance and solve for both. It’s about using data, caring deeply about the customer, and providing the best possible products through a process we’ve dubbed Fit-Based Mass Personalization.

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Mass Customization 101

In order to get going, we need a quick supply chain refresher. Traditional supply chain thinking puts forth that complex product proliferation will increase supply side costs, driving product prices above competitive consumer levels. This paradigm has intimated the stereotypical process by which companies develop products for consumers: (1) research consumer habits, (2) design products, (3) test products, and (4) launch single product offerings to the market. The end result of this process is a well-researched, individual product offering that satisfies consumers to varying levels – we either buy the product, as it is available, or simply choose not to buy. Brands are, therefore, left with typical problems faced as a result of mass production – most importantly that the supply does not exactly match the demand – leading to shortages or excess inventory.

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Within the past fifteen years (and to a greater extent within the past five years), technological advances have allowed companies to consider abandoning this traditional mass production model and implementing a model of mass customization. This is the ability to deliver custom-made or personalized items to consumers, while still using mass production techniques to maintain low costs. This movement toward a completely different supply chain set-up is difficult, and requires specific organizational components in order to succeed. But if a company can create a system that cost effectively delivers, it can begin to see the rewards associated with mass customization.

As always, it’s all about the customer

Mass customization offers a new and improved user experience. As Salvador, Martin de Holan, and Piller write in their article Cracking the Code of Mass Customization:

“Regardless of product category or industry, [companies that use mass customization] have all turned customers’ heterogeneous needs into an opportunity to create value, rather than a problem to be minimized, challenging the ‘one-size-fits-all’ assumption of traditional mass production.”

This opportunity to create value through mass customization allows companies to satiate variegated consumer preferences, and more efficiently maximize consumer satisfaction.  No longer is the consumer restricted to what is available, but rather, the consumer can represent his or her individuality through information.  Much like e-commerce has done through product availability, mass customization has huge positive implications on long-tail consumers who do not neatly fit within the confines of the central hump in the distribution curve.

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Companies have various approaches to consumer interaction with their mass customization model. But the majority of the research shows that certain actions have positive and negative effects on user experiences. As the process of customizing becomes more complex, and more specifically as users are inundated with too many choices, consumers begin to feel the effects of the paradox of choice. Without thinking through the complexity of their customization system, brands can essentially be exchanging one friction (lack of consumer choice) for another (too many choices). The goal of a successful mass customization program should be to maximize product utility, incite positive user involvement, and minimize complexity.

Taste vs. Fit

Let’s take a moment and think about any direct-to-consumer brand that offers custom apparel. The customer experience is as follows: (1) choose a specific style, (2) customize the product, (3) enter specific measurements, and (4) order the product.  The company then will take these inputs and custom-build the ordered product and ship directly to the consumer. From a consumer perspective, it’s a pretty simple process that makes a lot of sense within the apparel industry – consumers generally know what they like and dislike, while product features are generally understood. But what about products consumers don’t understand enough to design on their own? In other words, what if I do not know my preferences or personal taste, and thus cannot apply my preferences to product attributes?

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We consider this issue a dichotomy between taste and fit. Tastes are preferences expressed by active consumer choices – choosing a custom shirt with French cuffs or deciding the color of your sneakers. They’re both choices of taste. The vast majority of companies that employ a mass customization strategy fall into this oversaturated category. Fit-based solutions are best when the product category lends itself towards preferences or needs that consumers find difficult (or impossible) to translate into product attributes.

The next wave of innovation: Fit-Based Mass Personalization

Innovative companies are beginning to use data to fix problems that arise from mixing traditional mass customization with recommendation-based functionality. These companies can remove the burden of confusing choice by using advanced data analytics to understand optimal consumer outcomes. Companies like Netflix, with movies, Pandora, with music, and WineC, with wine, have drafted on massive amounts of research and success stories to determine objective attributes and honor subjective preferences.

At Helix, this is the approach we have taken as well.  We use information such as your body type (height and weight), sleeping position (back/stomach/side), and mattress preference (firm/soft) so we can recommend, and subsequently build, the best possible mattress specifically for you. So, instead of asking you to choose the density of the foam in your mattress, or the level of point elasticity, we take information we’ve learned about you and translate that into product recommendations. Then we build it.

And we’re seeing this type of fit-based mass personalization across many categories – everything from daily vitamins (Care/Of), to shampoo (Function of Beauty), to pet food (Ollie). These companies are providing great solutions to problems that have traditionally been confusing and hard to describe. It’s an awesome time to be a consumer. Get the right fit.

Adam is a co-founder at Helix, a leading sleep brand aiming to change the way people sleep through individually personalized, custom made mattresses shipped to directly to your home. Prior to Helix, he worked at a brand incubator that specialized in B2C start-up brand building and shortly thereafter helped launch the CPG company, Sheets Brand, with brand endorsers and investors that included LeBron James and Serena Williams. He graduated from Princeton University and earned his MBA from Wharton. He’s 6’2”, sleeps on his back and prefers a medium-firm mattress.

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