Being one in a Million – the value of uniqueness in mass-customized products
Being one in a million – Pia Burghartz, Emanuel de Bellis, Franziska Krause,Nikolaus Franke, and Gerald Haeublshow how product uniqueness can create value for customers in a mass customization context at the Theory + Practice in Marketing conference held at Columbia University in the City of New York, the La Londe Marketing Communications and Consumer Behavior Conference held by Aix-Marseille University, and the Association for Consumer Research Conference in Atlanta.
Imagine the following scenario: A sneaker aficionada customizes her own individual sneakers online through a mass customization (MC) system. The system allows her to independently select the color of each of 20 different features of the sneakers—for each feature, she can choose among 50 different colors. After some trial and error, she comes up with an appealing configuration that is quite different from those of her peers. Before adding the sneakers to her cart, the following message pops up on her screen: “You are the first to create this design. We guarantee that your design will remain unique by blocking it for other customers.” Would such a message affect how the aficionada feels about her customized sneakers? On this year’s Theory + Practice in Marketing conference, the LaLonde Marketing Communications and Consumer Behavior conference, and the Association for Consumer Research conference we showed that this message creates value for consumers.
Why the message may not create value?
On the one hand, the message may not create value for the aficionada. From an objective standpoint, many customized products are actually unique given the vast number of attributes and options that consumers can choose from in MC systems (e.g., 115 trillion possible sneaker configurations on nike.com/nike-by-you and 566 quadrillion possible cereal mixes on mymuesli.com/mixer). The solution space of average MC systems is not only expansive but also finely granulated, meaning that differences in solutions might be hard to recognize at some point. This, in turn, makes it unlikely that a configuration will be chosen more than once. In addition, research has shown that, in some cases, consumers desire non-unique products (e.g., bestselling books; Bearden, Netemeyer, and Teel 1989).
Why the message may create value?
On the other hand, the message may create value for the aficionada. First, consumers may underestimate the likelihood or neglect the possibility that their own customized product is unique (Paulos 1988; Sunstein 2002). Second, MC systems might selectively attract consumers with a high desire for uniqueness as they enable the creation of non-standardized and individualized products (Lynn and Harris 1997; Michel et al. 2009; Schreier 2006). Third, early production technologies such as mass production and photography have impaired the “aura” of unique artwork (Benjamin 2008; Fuchs, Schreier, and Van Osselaer 2015) while new technologies enable perfect digital reproducibility (Waugh 2017). These developments may strengthen individuals’ desire for unique artifacts and experiences (Morgan 2019) and are in line with people’s increased quest for the unique (Francis and Hoefel 2018; Reckwitz 2017).
Why does it matter?
If informing the aficionada about the uniqueness of her configuration and, in addition, “blocking” it to guarantee its continued uniqueness indeed creates value, this would represent an extraordinary opportunity for firms that provide MC systems. We are aware of two examples in which firms seem to draw on the benefits of uniqueness feedback and blocking. Specifically, car manufacturer Porsche offers consumers the opportunity to block certain exterior colors for two years at an additional cost of €10,000 (Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur 2017), whereas watchmaker Unity allows consumers to block configurations at an extra cost of 50% of the standard price (see unitywatches.com/design-your-own-watch). Based on research into product uniqueness (Lynn and Harris 1997) and more specific MC studies (Franke and Schreier 2008), we propose that providing consumers with automated feedback indicating the strict uniqueness of their configured product and, in addition, assuring them that their particular product configuration will be blocked enhances their valuation of that product.
What the findings of our research show?
We hypothesized that emphasizing the strict uniqueness of mass-customized products through uniqueness feedback and uniqueness blocking creates value for consumers. Evidence from a field experiment and three (lab and online) experiments provides support for this theorizing. The findings of this research contribute to two broad strands of literature.
1.) We advance our understanding of consumers behavior in connection with MC systems (Moreau and Herd 2010).
Past research in this domain has identified preference fit (Dellaert and Stremersch 2005) and process-related benefits (Troye and Supphellen 2012) as sources of consumer value. Our findings shed light on the role of product uniqueness as a value-generating force in MC systems. They show that providing consumers with automated feedback indicating the strict uniqueness of the product they have configured and, in addition, assuring them that this particular product configuration will be “blocked” in that it will be unavailable to other consumers enhances their valuation of the product. Whereas prior research focused on non-automated social feedback, our findings reveal that automated feedback can be a significant driver of consumer value, with the former being consumer-to-consumer interactions and the latter being company-to-consumer interactions (Yadav and Pavlou 2014).
2.) This research contributes to the literature on product uniqueness.
The current findings demonstrate that strict product uniqueness can be harnessed in MC systems through uniqueness feedback and uniqueness blocking. Moreover, this research shows that perceived exclusivity – i.e., the perception that a product is not available to others (Kim 2018) – can be a key driver of consumers’ valuation of a product.
3.) Implementation of uniqueness feedback and blocking in MC systems creates cost-efficient value.
These findings have important practical implications in that they identify an essentially costless way for firms to create customer value by capitalizing on the fact that MC systems naturally promote consumers’ creation of products that are strictly unique.
More regarding our research
- Contact us: Pia.firstname.lastname@example.org
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Image Source: Photo by Cristina Gottardi on unsplash