The retail industry is by no means ‘new’ in the general economic landscape. Ever since humans became conscious, developed opposable thumbs and learned that they could use them to create tradable objects, retail started to ‘boom’. It evolved from the Neanderthal trading venison with Homo Sapiens for sturdier clubs, to the beautiful ball gowns tailored specifically for each lady in the glamourous court of France’s Louis XIV. What was the competitive advantage? Easy answer: customization.
Jumping a few centuries forward, the Industrial Revolution enabled us to create more, better and faster. Amidst all these benefits we celebrated the ‘death’ of customization. With the birth of mass production facilitated by assembly lines, we witnessed a levelling of social classes economically as well as socially. After all, we still define ourselves by the objects we own.
Now, customization is back with a vengeance. As we say in Romania – bear with me, the translation isn’t all that easy – ‘the wheel could even be square but it would still turn at least once more’! We tried so hard to revive this practice of personalization when yet another revolution came to the rescue. This time The Technological one! Digitalization, mobile development, 3D printing… These things have radically changed the retail environment, and have gone a far way in helping to deliver customized products and services.
Will we repeat our previous mistakes?
The Industrial Revolution gave us two alternatives: ‘more and faster’ or ‘customized and slower’. The Technological Revolution transforms these alternatives into one cohesive package: ‘more, faster and customized’. After all, today’s Homo Sapiens is far more complex, and, some might argue, a lot greedier… So, say in 100 years, how will this package evolve?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at three major trends affecting the retail landscape:
- The rise of the online shopping and its supremacy over brick-and-mortar stores, that gave birth to the omnichannel practice (Lunka, 2015).
- The shift in the general mindset of the customer towards ‘caring’ for the environment (Nielsen, 2014).
- The appetite for the luxurious and exclusivist experience (Deloitte, 2015).
So, on top of it being ‘more, faster and customized’, we now also want it to be ‘online, sustainable and luxurious’. We’re not picky at all!
Well, do not fear! I have a solution!
Let’s do an imagination exercise together. It’s December 2116. We wake up, we wash our face, we check the news – which, of course, is displayed on our ‘smart’ mirror (Internet of Things, and all that). We want to dress for work. Maybe a Louis Vuitton skirt, a Chanel blouse, some Gucci shoes, a Burberry scarf…top of my head! Oh, and I forgot, we belong to the middle class.
Most importantly, all these items must be customized for us! I mean, maybe we don’t like our neck so we need to have a specific collar shape for the blouse. We are neither too tall or too short, so the skirt length cannot be universal. The soles of our feet are quite flat so we need orthopaedic features integrated into our Gucci’s.
Now, imagine that we have this robot assistant and all we need to do is to click on the preferred clothing brand and model. This robot measures our body in that specific moment – I don’t know, maybe you gained some weight from one day to another. Then it sends this information to the 3D printer, which uses recycling textile material to print out the clothes, in the desired shape, pattern and colour. Then we go to work, look fabulous and when we come back we can recycle our clothes in order to create new ones the next morning. It’s like shopping every day!
So, what are we going to pay for, you might be wondering? For the specific design for that specific brand. After all everything is shifting towards intellectual property! Why not retail? It won’t be long and we will see the ‘Spring/Summer Ready-to-wear Collection’ package on Amazon-like platforms. And if we want the real, live experience? We can go to the flagship store. It would be like visiting the Louvre. Glamorous, educational and spectacular in the sense – ‘Was it really this way clothes were made in the day?”
This is just a picture of the future.
Turning back to the present, the truth is, we are witnessing the rebirth of customization. It has a new shape, a new feel, but it’s there and it will always be waiting for us.
This post is brought to you by one of AQ’s Undergraduates, Laura Susnea. As part of our internship programs, undergraduates and classic interns are encouraged to take part in company culture. Laura’s primary project focusses on training programs and eLearning and how best to adapt this to industries under pressure.