Customisation in the Sporting Goods Industry

Background

When Nike ID was launched in 2006 we witnessed the first tentative steps that allowed the end consumer to customise their own products and bring an added element of cache and personalisation to the sporting goods market place.

Eight years later and the innovation trend of customisation is now reaching critical mass. From breakfast cereals and decorated cakes, to vitamins, sporting goods, and luxury automobiles, customers can now create a product that they can truly call their own.

In the case of Nike ID it now has an entire floor in London’s flagship Nike Town store dedicated to this topic.

In the past, retailing and manufacturing was predicated on scale, with companies mass producing goods to achieve efficiency. Customisation was rarely an option – as Henry Ford famously said, “You can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black!”

Customisation has been around for a long time now, so why is it continuing to appear as a key innovations trend?

Customisation is a way for retailers to fulfil the ultimate product of a customer’s fantasy. It’s not what you want to sell them; it’s selling them what they’re asking you for. Nowadays, consumers are fulfilling their ultimate product fantasies from designing their own shoes (www.shoesofprey.com.au) and creating handbags of their dreams (ethreads.com), to mixing their own organic cereal (mymuesli.com).

Thanks to digital technology, operations efficiencies, and advanced manufacturing capabilities, more and more retailers are in the position of satisfying customised product orders.

Todays retailers are closer to their end consumer through social media and are moving their customisation capabilities from clicks to bricks and creatively harnessing social mediums to procure feedback, interest and brand advocacy.

The result of these changes mean that the ability to offer such as service can now be done at a much lower cost but can create an exciting point of difference.

Many specialist sports retailers are seizing this opportunity and applying customisation principles to give their customers enhanced value. Customisation of, for example, football boots and goalkeeper gloves are now core added value elements for football specialists.

Of course this is just adding items such as names and initials to the product. At manufacturer level pure customisation is available in terms of selecting colours and design allowing the consumer to create a true fantasy product.

It was, in fact adidas, not Nike, who were the first to investigate the customisation opportunity within the sporting goods market. In 2000 a pilot programme was launched called miadidas with its sole aim being to identify the feasibility of having a customised adidas product line. Today the miadidas range offers over 5000 product lines!

 

The Challenges

Since the initial launch of miadidas, its fulfillment process has been improved continuously and, arguably, this is one of the greatest challenges in developing a mass customisation offer. The miadidas process starts with a configuration process between the consumer and Adidas via some form of consumer interface. A customer order then has to be processed by Adidas’ order management system. This process triggers a respective manufacturing process within a corresponding production facility. The process ends with the distribution of the final product to the end consumer after manufacturing has been completed and the product has been shipped to the customers’ order.

All these elements bring their own challenges, however it is feasible that even the smallest brands can embrace them and develop a core customisation strategy.

 

The Sales Channel

I have covered, in previous articles, the current trends within the European Sporting Goods market and the challenges facing brands whether to sell direct or not. Within the adidas strategy the clear published goal is to drive increased levels of direct to end consumer sales (mono stores or online) and therefore customisation is a perfect companion to this approach.

The process of customisation not only brings the end consumer emotionally closer to the product and brand but also enables data capture and the subsequent ability for the brand to reconnect directly with the end user at a later date – ideal for new product launches, special offers etc.

In fact the emotional element of customisation, in terms of connection, can be a key driver even for those brands that want to use the approach from a marketing driven exercise.

It can be the first steps for a brand to develop their direct to end consumer strategy but without effecting current distribution channels, or it can be complementary to a selective distribution strategy.

In the second example a brand may decide that they want to create a customisation programme but for the transaction and delivery to be completed by a specific retail partner or partners.

The end consumer can therefore customise his product, the retailer can offer a point of difference and the brand can drive targeted marketing activity through the project.

 

Conclusion

It is clear that customisation is here to stay – whether it be at independent retail level with the use of embroidery/embellishment machinery offering the ability to add names, initials etc – through to a fully customised product designed and created exclusively for an end user.

As part of a future brand strategy (and perhaps for the brand to begin to explore direct selling to the end user) it can provide a strong marketing platform and point of difference from competitors as well as creating enhanced emotional attachment for the consumer towards the brand.

As manufacturing and fulfilment processes become ever more sophisticated customisation will undoubtedly become more important within the sporting goods industry and thus those brands and retailers that embrace this trend today will very likely be the beneficiaries tomorrow.