From Ford Model T to coffee--the move towards mass customisation.

Author:Bull, Colin

Any colour you want

Customer choice has increased significantly in the past hundred years. At the turn of the 20th Century Henry Ford launched the infamous Model T [1], the first automobile mass-produced on moving assembly lines. Buyers could famously choose it in any colour they wanted--as long as it was black.

As time went on, customers became used to buying goods in standard specifications, for example clothes in different sizes and colours. As we have turned into the 21st Century, however, we've seen features that have allowed consumers to customise products or services with an almost infinite range of components, whether it be when ordering a computer, smartphone or pair of trainers. This paradigm shift has been brought on because the customers themselves have evolved, and the demands have begun to vary significantly from customer to customer, not just region to region.

The new frontier

As such, we are leaving the age of mass production and now entering the era of 'mass customisation' within both the manufacturing and service industries. At its core is a tremendous increase in variety and customisation without a corresponding increase in costs. At its limit, it is the mass production of individually customised goods and services.

At its best, it provides strategic competitive advantage and economic value.

The need for a move towards a mass customisation form of production has been accelerated by the fact that millennials have grown up with the Internet and are used to its personalised delivery of information and, as such, are demanding a similar experience from personalised products. The trend has already reached the high street, we no longer go into Costa Coffee and order just a coffee, but a primo soya flat white latte with vanilla.

Mass customisation is best described as "the capability to manufacture a relatively high volume of product options for a relatively large market (or collection of niche markets) that demands customisation, without trade-offs in cost, delivery and quality" [2].

In essence, it can be viewed as a collaborative effort between customers and manufacturers, who have different sets of priorities and need to jointly search for solutions that best match customers' individual specific needs within the realms of a manufacturers' customisation capabilities. In today's landscape, many commercial sectors, whether it be retail, service, technology, or manufacturing have started taking the likes and dislikes of the...

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