The late Marshall Field, who founded US department store Marshall Field and Company in the mid-1800s, once said, “Give the lady what she wants.”
It’s a sentiment that hasn’t lost its relevance even in today’s retail environment. In fact, it could be argued that the phrase now holds more significance than ever before. Retailers are increasingly pulling out all the stops to ensure consumers have exactly what they want when they want and where they want.
At Louis Vuitton, customers can personalise handbags, travel bags and wallets via an online Mon Monogram service. Once selecting a bag, the owner can add initials and other design details, choosing from 17 colour options.
Fellow luxury brand Savatore Ferragamo’s MTO (made-to-order) Driver Loafer program allows wearers of the iconic shoe to choose their own material, colour and hardware.
What about valued guests staying at The Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel? Well, they’ll find their initials monogrammed on pillowcases.
Personalised options aren’t limited to luxury markets, though. In celebration of the 80th anniversary of well-known chocolate bar Kit Kat, Nestle´ launched a pop-up studio that invited chocoholics to create their own flavours of Kit Kat bars in Sydney and Melbourne. A similar concept has also been employed by Magnum ice cream.
Meanwhile, the founders of Australian business Shoes of Prey have achieved success by enabling consumers to customise their own footwear online where they can specify preferred shape, colour and heel height. Shoes of Prey claims to have hit multi-million dollar revenue in under two years and now has five global offices housing almost 200 staff. It’s a stark difference from the business’ humble beginning of three people sitting in a lounge room in 2009!
The personalisation of services and product is not a new concept; the desire to customise jewellery is as old as adornment itself. However, there’s no denying the trend is spreading across multiple retail sectors ... fast.
“Before the industrial revolution, everything waspersonalised,”Simon Dell, managing director of marketing agency Two Cents Group, says. “When factories were introduced, the focus shifted to producing as much of everything as possible. Now, we’ve evolved into a much more individualistic culture; people are getting tired of the same products everywhere and are craving ways to set themselves apart.”
Further to this, Retail Doctor Group founder and CEO Brian Walker states that there are several key principles at play to help explain why humans crave personalisation.
There’s the ‘scarcity’ principle, whereby consumers are motivated by a desire for exclusivity.
“[Consumers think] ‘there aren’t many of these made and I’m very important because I have one’,” Walker says.“With that comes‘status’and the aspirational appeal associated with it.”
This quest for exclusivity and status drives what Walker calls ‘the attention economy’.
“There’s a growing attention economy where people, particularly in the mid to high-end market, are overtly saying, ‘I’ve got less time; I want to stand out from the crowd and, to achieve that, I want you to make it about me.’”
Finally, the element of ‘self-reward’ comes into question. Walker explains that this is linked to a consumer’s belief that he or she is worthwhile and valuable and therefore deserves a reward.
Technological advancements are also said to be significant enablers in the rise of personalisation.
“While made-to-order services have always been a hallmark of brands in the luxury space, the level of customisation has grown in recent years,” Elizabeth Weinstein, account executive at US-based brand consultancy The O Group told Luxury Daily. “Bespoke services are no longer limited to Savile Row thanks to growing technology.”
Walker has similar sentiments: “The driving force is technology. Technology enables us to segment into consumer types and behaviour. We now have extensive consumer records via databases and can take that information and effectively translate it into predictive data.”
In order to better understand consumer attitudes to personalisation and how businesses are adapting operations in response, the UK arm of Deloitte conducted a study in 2015 titled Made-to-order: The rise of mass personalisation. The results, taken from a sample of people living in the UK, provide some useful insight. Specifically, one in five of those respondents who expressed an interest in personalised products and services said they were willing to pay a 20 per cent premium.
The study shows that consumers like to actively contribute to the personalisation process in categories where items are more expensive, such as holidays and furniture, or categories where they would like to add a personal touch, such as fashion accessorises and clothing.
In addition, 48 per cent say they are willing to wait longer to receive a personalised product or service while 22 per cent are happy to share some data in return for a more personalised customer service or product.
An overriding message was that personalisation is heading to the masses, which could mean sectors such as jewellery will need to contend with industries that traditionally might not be considered competitors.
“For some time, personalisation signified exclusivity: personalised products were status symbols, a way of making consumers feel special, enabling them to stand out from he crowd,”the report read.“While exclusivity has traditionally been expensive, rapid developments in technology have now made personalised communications, products and services more affordable and accessible. Today, consumers are able to put their own mark on a product, perhaps by selecting a specific flavour of crisps or by being part of the marketing campaign through user- generated content.”
Further emphasising the spread of personalisation, Ben Perkins, head of consumer business research at Deloitte UK, commented, “Businesses have not only developed the capabilities to measure specifically what each individual consumer wants, they are now in a position to link their processes and resources to provide it. Flexible manufacturing and 3D printing enable mass ersonalisation at lower costs, allowing manufacturers to rethink their supply chains radically.
“In the future, businesses that do not incorporate an element of personalisation into their offering risk losing revenue and customer loyalty.”
One jewellery business that embraces an operating model in vein of those referenced in the Deloitte study is StyleRocks. The 2011-founded Australian-based online retailer allows consumers to customise their own jewellery pieces, including necklaces, earrings and wedding and engagement rings using a set of pre-existing styles, materials and finishes.
Founder Pascale Helyar-Moray claims there are some three trillion jewellery combinations available. Prices range from under $250 to almost $20,000, and the most popular price bracket is around the $500 mark.
Demand appears to be strong; Helyar-Moray says sales have doubled in the past year and increased five-fold in the past two years. She also comments that feedback indicates consumers still prefer to purchase engagement rings in store even as people become more comfortable purchasing jewellery online.
What does the rise in personalisation mean for the traditional retailer who specialises in a product commonly associated with words like personalisation, customisation and bespoke?
It’s not an easy question to answer but what appears to be evident is that there is a plethora of ways in which jewellers can provide their own versions of personalised offerings. Being able to design and manufacture a bespoke jewellery piece in-house is an obvious way to deliver a personalised product and service; however, it’s not always possible for jewellery retailers nor accessible for shoppers – as Dell points out, not all consumers have the financial capacity to commission a piece of jewellery.
With no on-site jeweller, Sunkissed Creations Jewellery in Hillarys, Western Australia, has found another way to offer customers a personalised experience. Owner Melia Borg has developed an in-store, DIY range called Sunkissed Play, which launched in January.
The concept allows consumers to select a unique combination of beads, pearls and charms that are then strung together and ‘tied off‘ by a staff member.
“The customer will then choose their packaging,” Borg says, adding, “We are going for a beach-babe look using lots of pearl and turquoise with a bit of sparkle too. The aim is to add colour and activity into the store. We will create a fun and creative space for customers to design their own unique piece of jewellery.”
Customisable jewellery options from suppliers also appear to expand far beyond name pendants and charms and beads. In September 2015, Italian jewellery business Le Corone expanded its distribution to include Australia and New Zealand. The collection’s point of difference lies in rings and bracelets with adjustable, coloured silicone bands, which are interchangeable and re-sizable.
Le Corone Australia managing director Mandy Thurgar explains that the pieces have been designed so that jewellery retailers can cut the bands to a size that suits the wearer. She adds that retailers are armed with multiple coloured bands that can be interchanged with a customer’s original purchase as a way to promote customisation and encourage repeat store visits.
“Le Corone offers women a piece of jewellery that she can customise; she is able to determine how she wears it, what she wears it with and what it will look like. It gives her control of the final‘look’of her outfit/style,”Thurgar says.
Of course, there is also a range of suppliers specialising in engraved jewellery and mix-and-match, collectible pieces incorporating charms, beads and even bangles.
Retailers would be wise to consider Walker’s comment about the importance of using customer data as a way to tailor products and services to individual needs.
Industry pundits may attest that this make-your-own, customisable business model doesn’t offer personalisation in the true sense of the word but if the customer wants it, does it even matter?
As Field once said,“The customer is always right.