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  April 2014

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GT Nexus

Out of the Way, Henry Ford - Customization is King in Today's Consumer Relationship
Bryan Nella, GT Nexus

Henry Ford's assembly line revolutionized production. It allowed the Model T to be built in just 93 minutes. It provided a single hub that streamlined the entire production lifecycle and delivered new levels of efficiency and customer satisfaction. Of course, his famous line was, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." Picture telling that to today's twenty-something consumer. The dynamic has made a complete turnaround and today's consumer is in charge. The race is on to find new and innovative ways to engage and serve customers. Here's a glimpse into today's customer-centric world.

The Future of Consumer Centricity

Viewers to the mi adidas website are quickly informed that "creating your own style is fast, easy and fun." For $165 anyone can design and customize their sneakers in more ways than can be imagined. Select colors and patterns for the shoe base, tongue top, lining, laces, sprintframe and midsole, outsole (apparently some of us have preference for color patterns on the bottom of our sneakers), and then there's personalization options - name, number, team. Not only is the consumer getting a customized shoe, there's an entire experience to putting their creativity to work and designing a personal shoe. Options, personalization, interactive experience combined with free shipping and free returns - this is the consumer experience of the future.


Apliiq is a much smaller custom clothing site created to provide a platform for creative expression. The site describes itself as "a place where fabric is celebrated as art and clothing as a frame, where people are a walking billboard for themselves, and where people who make clothing care as much about it as the people who wear it." On the site, "designers" select the type of clothing they wish to design. They pick the fabric and color. They can add patches or pockets where they choose. For $39 I was able to pick the type of clothing I wanted, select the color and cut, and customize it. It's engaging. It's an interactive experience. It reaches out to the consumer and allows them to put a piece of themselves into the finished product. The consumer experience - completely redefined.

Skinit offers numerous options to protect and customize phones and tablets. Consumers select their type of device and can customize it by uploading their own images, editing the layout, and adding text and fonts. Pre-made vector files allow shapes and images to be inserted. For $39 I'm able to design a custom cover for my iPhone with my own image, slogan and design.

The Customization Cost

The consumer experience is rapidly evolving, mostly in ways that favor the consumer. More options and engagement opportunities exist at the shopping, ordering and designing level. But as retailers reach out further to consumers, all of these options and promises come at a cost. In this case, the cost is strain on the supply chain to produce and deliver customized goods. Think back to Henry Ford's assembly line. You could have any color you wanted as long as it was black. Ford had a handle on supply and demand because he could control the dynamics. Today, the scenario is the complete opposite of Ford's world. For the more innovative retailers and brands, each item is made different, based on the wishes of the consumer. With most production today being outsourced, delivering customized goods at reasonable costs without sacrificing quality is a huge hurdle.

The Assembly Network

Just as the assembly line revolutionized production in the early 1900's, companies that recognize the power of connecting their suppliers and trading partners in one automated environment are gaining an advantage. Electronic networks hosted in the cloud have replaced the assembly line as the key enabler to operational excellence for companies striving to meet consumer needs - especially those offering customized and personalized goods. Connecting the extended enterprise in one place and conducting business in an environment where all data and documents are automated and visible enables innovative concepts. For example, customized online orders are fed directly to overseas factories for production. The customization is done at the factory and the purchase order data is flipped into an advanced shipment notice. The factory packs and ships the custom order direct to the consumer. Customized goods turned around and delivered in days.

Consumers today demand a new kind of experience that suits their needs. Retailers will soon find that they must adapt their entire way of doing business or they risk going the route of Ford's earlier endeavor, the Detroit Automobile Company, which could not meet consumer demands for quality and price and soon dissolved.

Bryan Nella is Director of Corporate Communications at GT Nexus, the world's largest cloud-based supply chain network. He has more than 12 years of experience distilling complex solutions into simplified concepts within the enterprise software and extra-enterprise software space. Prior to joining GT Nexus, Bryan held numerous positions in the technology practice at global public relations agency Burson-Marsteller, where he delivered media relations and communications services to clients such as SAP. In previous roles he has worked with clients such as IBM, MasterCard and U.S. Trust. Bryan holds a BA in Mass Communications from Iona College and a MS in Management Communications from Manhattanville College.