Definition: Customization

This is part of my series of blog posts where I define common terms that are related with mass customization. Also see the definitions for mass-customization,  co-creation and design your own/ create your own.

Customization is probably the most general term of all of these. It means to adjust an item to comply with your individual specifications. Here are some ideas how that could happen:

  • Crafting: Someone, like a cobbler, while take the measurements of your foot, and will create a product, in this case a shoe, made just for you. A customized shoe.
  • Customizing yourself: Think of the Billy shelf from Ikea that you can complete with all sorts of additions, different doors, lights etc, to turn into an individual piece of furniture. Or look at these Flip Flops whose appearance you can “customize” with velcro straps

The difference between mass customization and customization:

Dave Gardner actually wrote about this on the Fast Company blog as well, where he says that “Mass customization implies seamlessness from the standpoint of configuring, pricing and ordering all the way through the manufacturing process. ” whereas customizers “presently produce products using craft production techniques.” Dave Sloan from Treehouse Logicagreed and added “To deserve the ‘mass’ prefix in ‘mass customization,’ the customizer needs to be able to match the efficiency of mass producers in both customer acquisition and product delivery.”

Here’s a practical example: If you make a customized suit for $2000 per suit (of which you probably make 2-3 a week), your in the business of crafting. Also customization, but not mass. If you make hundreds of suits per month that are each $400 and therefore not far from what people are willing to spend on mass produced suits, you’re in the business of mass customization. Of course, there’s a gray zone, but in most cases, we can differentiate.

The difference between customization and personalization:

Customization is a general term that means you alter an item to your specifications. Personalization means you take something that works fine by itself, and you add elements to it that make it unique and relevant to you. As an example, take the chocolate bars from chocri: You can customize your own chocolate bar by choosing base chocolate and toppings, AND you can personalize  the chocolate bar by giving it a name that is then printed on the packaging.

Personalization is often printed, embroidered, engraved, … It can exist without (additional) customization, but in essence, it’s just a form of customization. Or at least that’s how broadly I take the term customization. In that sense, allowing your consumer to engrave the back of your gadget like Apple does, makes you a player in the mass customization business.


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