Consumer choice has increased steadily since Henry Ford’s Model T, when buyers could pick any color—as long as it was black. After Ford’s single product came standard specifications for different consumer segments, for example, clothes in different sizes and colors. In the last decade or so, we’ve seen features that allow each shopper to customize his or her product or service with a range of components, for instance, when ordering a car, computer, or smartphone. Such configured mass customization is bound to reach ever-greater levels of sophistication.
There’s more to come. Now individualized customization appears to be within reach. This next wave of mass customization—building a unique product for each customer (for example, custom suits and shirts made to fit your body shape)—has been on the horizon but has proved hard to achieve profitably at scale. Successes have usually come from start-ups or from niche plays by established corporations, and there are many examples of costly failures."