Supply chains are evolving at unprecedented rates. Though it may come as somewhat of a shock to those who aren’t directly involved in supply chain management, the whole industry is changing to meet the demands of consumers in an economy that is already rapidly shifting. For those in supply chain operations, these adaptations can pose both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity in their careers.
One of the biggest factors driving these changes in supply chains is a growing demand for customization. Many of the younger generations — including millennials, but predominantly Gen Z — have come to expect an entirely personalized buying process. This trend is bound to not only impact suppliers but completely change the way business is done over the coming years.
Making the change
Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to make the switch towards a more customized manufacturing and supply chain model. For example, the company Wiivv uses an app designed by the company to gather information on a customer’s specific tread using foot scans. From there, customized insoles, sandals, and shoes are developed using 3D printing. The footwear is formed perfectly to the customer’s feet and comes in whatever color and style they chose during the ordering process.
This is just one of many examples of how supply chains are becoming more versatile and working towards customizing products. Doing this also requires a few other things though. For instance, it is critical to have an efficient and well-organized supply chain planning system that allows for quick response times and few, if any, botched orders.
Another important aspect of a successful customized supply chain is customer relations. Strong, positive customer relationships are key; working towards making the ordering process simple and easy to use is the first big step. The next step is building a reliable process that customers can count on to deliver the customized product they want and to respond to any questions or concerns they may have.
Customization has been applied in the electronics industry: "white box" computer systems have been joined by development boards, kits and reference designs. Users program ASICs and FPGAs. Still, companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and Google are now developing their own chips to exceed typical performance metrics.
Customization is becoming essential for many businesses to attract loyal customers, but how could that possibly happen on a mass scale? Supply chains are ineffective if they have to change or tweak the entire process for every single person. The solution is the concept of mass customization.
When looking back at the footwear example, it becomes clear that the entire process isn’t derailed because of minor changes in each shoe. Rather, with 3D printing technology and tracking of customer information through the entire process, minor changes are easily adjusted for and everything goes on smoothly. Some companies even keep the personalized measurements in-store without technology but then send measurements electronically to a warehouse and the mass customization process begins there.
Ultimately, the idea of mass customization requires a lean and agile supply chain to succeed. The process for the customer needs to feel personalized yet simple and effective, but things are still moving quickly on the production end. As these changes continue to sweep our supply chains, we are bound to see countless innovations and adaptations that we would have never dreamed up even 20 years ago.