The Online Personalised Products' Story: Customers Have it Their Way

eCommerce companies are exploring the potential of mass customisation systems and providing their customers with the opportunity to create unique and individualised products.
Retail Customisation

Online retailers are discovering the additional value product customisation can provide to their customers, and the revenue that can be generated out of the model. Over the last few years, an increasing number of eCommerce companies is exploring the potential of mass customisation systems and providing their customers with the opportunity to create unique and individualised products, across categories such as shoes, handbags, furniture, home wares, and even bicycles and motorbikes.

Online customisation: Attractive in home-space and apparel
Why is it a delight to have a custom made product for yourself, your loved ones or your house/office etc? “Getting a product customised online is all the more convenient and time saving as you can share your ideas, design or sketch and get your favourite product delivered at your doorstep. The custom made product would be one-of-a-kind made exclusively for you and that is what distinguishes it from the usual mass products available in the market,” said Raj Iyer, CMD and founder, icustommadeit.com, a customised personal and home-related merchandise platform that had raised $650,000 in funding until December.

Online apparel stores: Suit yourself!
The nip and tuck service by online apparel stores has caught the eye of discerned shoppers for whom made-to-measure and customisations are pre-requisites to retail service. Not only marketplaces such as Jabong and Fashionara, but young e-tailers in the hope to create a market with a differentiated model are using customisation as a tool to attract prospective buyers. While Kaaryah.com offers 18 different sizes for the Indian woman, theblousefactory.com offers made-to-measure service for the blouses on the website and custom tailor products at company outlet. Bespoke tailoring is the new trend in the India’s apparel industry which is catching up quickly as brands are realising the worth for customised clothing besides selling ready-to-wear for consumers.
India is Pro-customisation, as we are used to tailoring, “the challenge is “availability of good quality tailoring services,” said Naresh Mehta, CEO and founder of theblusefactory.com. The offering of made-to-measure is an emerging opportunity and will always appeal the niche online buyer, he further added.
In the men’s apparel segment, The Raymond Shop pioneered the concept of custom tailoring for men in India. The brand had come up with Raymond Made-to-Measure exclusive stores that would be serving the customers’ need for custom made tailoring. Besides this, it is Siyaram’s Fashion Avenue, Creyate, an online custom clothing brand by Arvind Group and Van Heusen’s new venture MYFIT that is revolutionising the customers' wardrobe offering custom sizes and fits. In fact, luxury brands like Armani, Versace, Zegna, Canali, Corneliani, Cadini, Brioni and several others now offer made-to-measure tailoring in India.         

Sofa, so good
Although customisation does look promising in the online space in categories like apparels, accessories, footwear, and personal computers, consumers today want more choice in furniture and home wares and wish to create something that expresses their own personality. What else would prove the spurt of activity in the custom furniture online space?
The revolution in the online buying space in India has paved way for companies that allow consumers to customise their home furniture. Giant horizontal portals have laid the foundation for wide popularity of online shopping where the customers are completely comfortable, which has led to a spurt in the number of vertical players who all offered a great choice of products within a single category. Though, currently, at very nascent stage, customisation is a natural progression to this trend.
“In India, getting made-to-order furniture has always been a wild goose chase. Even with the most skilful carpenter, issues such as aesthetic sense, quality, fittings or pricing always end up leaving a bitter experience to the customers. Ready-made furniture on the other hand, may not always satisfy one’s individual preferences and exact requirements,” said Ajit Shegaonkar, Co-founder and CEO, Stitchwood.com. The firm empowers users to design their own furniture, lets them customise the available designs and provides after sales service, pushing growth in the custom eCommerce industry.

Customer: Passive receiver to Co-owner
E-commerce has witnessed a paradigm shift from viewing customers as passive receivers of value to co-owners of it. Their engagement in the product creation or product production process has become extremely critical. “Customers no longer ‘buy’ online they ‘shop’ which means we have to focus on enhancing their shopping experience,” Shegaonkar added.

Challenges and way forward for the online customisation trend
The Rs.1,40,000-crore Indian furniture market is highly fragmented and unorganised. Within it, the online market accounts for Rs.750 crore. But it is growing rapidly and expected to be worth Rs.15,000 crore in the next three years. Research shows with growing Internet penetration customers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities along with big metros prefer to buy furniture online, for the wider choice and after-sales service.
“The idea of customising furniture online and buying the same is relatively new and users have to be made aware of it, one has to build experiences that help user describe what they want without it being a daunting experience. Even non-tech-savvy users should be able to design and buy custom made goods online,” said Dr Madhukar Gangadi, Founder and CEO of Hyderabad-based CustomFurnish.com, a vertically integrated eCommerce venture in the furniture and home furnishing space that allows users to modify the furniture of completely create new designs by themselves online, and then buy them, as if buying a readymade item.
“A prime concern has been to counter the myth that ‘customised is expensive’,” said Iyer of icustommadeit.com. “Though the idea of custom furniture online was novel and not-tried-before initiative, we did face questions on business viability, costs and implementations,” Shegaonkar added.
Though currently there are few vertical players in the online furniture namely UrbanLadder Pepperfry and Fabfurnish, giant horizontal portals like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon etc have spotted huge potential in this space and have ventured into this industry recently. A lot of these players are planning to or have enabled customisation in one way or the other using smart-phone technologies.
As product customisation has burgeoned in the online space, eCommerce firms will start shipping to various locations in the country soon, asserted Gangadi implying the response has been encouraging. Even Stitchwood’s plans of expanding from 15 cities to 30 cities rest on the increasing number of clients and promising volumes. “We will definitely be upscaling our platform, adding vendors and expanding and strengthening our clients’ base as repeat purchases have been an important contributor to our business,” added Shegaonkar.
Apart from expanding operations into various cities, focus on technology – the main facilitator behind the increase in mass customisation – will need to strengthen, as much as a need to focus on after-sales service.

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