Manufacturing individual products for customers has been a mega-trend for years. But what exactly is a mega-trend? A "blockbuster of change", as defined by Zukunftsinstitut? That's a pretty good definition, because a trend that endures for at least 25 years, and that across national boundaries and areas of life, such as consumption, politics and economy, deserves to be referred to as "mega".
"Globalisation, digital networking and not least the increase in affluence of recent decades have multiplied the options for elf-realisation. Life paths, lifestyles and life models are becoming more flexible and differentiated", writes the market leader for trend research, Trend one. "People are increasingly staging themselves as brands and curating their identity exhibition in social networks. In order to be unique, products or services are being individualised to a great extent. From an article of clothing designed by oneself through media consumption to the conscious lifestyle – distinction instead of convention is the motto. Companies have recognised this and are focusing on consumers with their needs, wishes and preferences."
The Verbraucherzentrale (consumer advice centre) has also carried out research on this mega-trend and published the Study "Jenseits des Otto Normalverbrauchers" (Beyond the average consumer) in 2018. In it, experts reach the conclusion that there is no "homo oeconomicus", but instead only the "homo consumens", the self-experiencing consumer looking for customized products, and who doesn't wish to or can't submit to the dictates of one-size-fits-all offerings. This is because people are of course individuals, and are also different in terms of age, health, size, gender and diversity as consumers, and have manifold cultural backgrounds, dreams, wishes and needs.
Companies have already long been tracking the latter, with success. From the self-configured sport shoe (Vans Customs) and muesli (My Muesli) through individual cosmetics (Clinique) to the seemingly endless number of coffees one can order in any cafe in various sizes, types and flavour directions – many companies offer their customers the opportunity to create their own products.
This individualisation is possible thanks to the sophisticated infrastructure in the industrial nations, and especially thanks to the technical and thus also social networking that accompanies digitalisation. Customers are directly networked with one another, but also with companies via smartphones and computers, and can be incorporated into manufacturing or subsequent finishing processes of the products. Trend researchers and economic scientists see the success formula for producers in this direct exchange with customers, in differentiation and in the making possible of individual offerings.
The Frauenhofer Gesellschaft, the federal state of Baden Württemberg and the University of Stuttgart have dedicated a competence centre to individualisation and endowed it with more than twelve million Euro. The competence centre Mass personalisation is headed by Professor Wilhelm Bauer, who is convinced that classic business relations are undergoing a transformation. The relationships between companies, known as business-to-business (B2B), and the production of mass-produced goods for consumers, or business-to-consumer, are experiencing an increasingly direct exchange with buyers and users, which will in future have an increasingly significant influence on product design: "Consumers will become so-called prosumers, and thus be actively integrated into value creation (business-to-user or B2U)."
This is why Bauer and his team research interdisciplinary methods, processes and production systems across industries extending to business models for the manufacture of personalised products, in order to make individualisation just as cost-efficient as mass production. That's not easy. This is because incorporating customers into development and production is a complex process, which must also be represented as attractively and simply for users as possible.
Many furniture manufacturers have already managed this quite successfully. Ambista has already often reported on how companies can profit from individualisation and customization, the Furniture retailing, for example, or manufacturers of Unique items, Modular systems and made-to-measure production. We have also written about a Online configurator, with which any designer furniture can be formed and individualised, and our network includes many manufacturers that have specialised in individualisation. You can thus find the following when you enter the keyword "individualisation" in the search box.