by -- May 01, 2014

I’ve always enjoyed having the opportunity to design my own product. Whether it’s the latest kicks that I designed at NIKEiD or the BMW i3 that I created using the BMW configurator, I’ve always enjoyed being a part of the creative process. The only thing missing was the ability to get the product immediately, to achieve instant gratification.

Problem solved. I was shopping at the Irvine Spectrum recently and decided to stop in the Oakley store. As I looked around the store, I saw the custom products counter and decided to play with the configurator built into the display. I created a pair of Flak Jacket® glasses and asked the salesperson about the next step in the process. To my surprise, all that I needed to do was complete the order and he would have my new, custom designed sunglasses ready in less than 5 minutes. Talk about instant gratification!  They even included a bag for my new sunglasses with the country flag of my choice. I chose Germany!

The experience at Oakley prompted me to think a bit more deeply about the future potential of build to order within a store. Imagine a future Nike store that scans your foot using a laser, identifies the color and style of the shoe, and then has a robot in the back of the store create your shoe in 30 minutes or less. 

It might sound like the Jetsons, but the reality is that by using Flyknit technology, Nike is able to take synthetic yarn and weave it into a running shoe using a knitting machine.  Instead of 37 sewn pieces, you now only have 2 sewn pieces. Not only does the production process create less scrap, but production is quicker, costs are reduced, defects are all but eliminated, and the door is opened to bringing athletic shoe manufacturing back into the U.S. And all this just for the sake of instant gratification.

This form of product co-creation also offers companies a mechanism for capturing large amounts of data around consumer preferences, tastes, and purchase behaviors. By performing analytics around the data generated, retailers and consumer product companies have the potential to realize the following benefits:

• Products meet the exact needs of the customer
• Customer tastes & preferences are more deeply understood
• Increased customer loyalty and brand loyalty
• Improved insights into future product designs
• Insights can be leveraged to plan new products for the mass market segment
• Enhanced sales of higher-margin products
• Improved ability to suggest future purchases for the customer
• Acts as a barrier to switching to competing brands
• Reduced inventory levels of finished goods
• Reduced product returns

The end result may not be as utopian as the world of the Jetsons, but through improved consumer insights, greater customer satisfaction, and more efficient production processes, companies may find that a retail utopia is within reach.