It’s a bespoke world.

Today’s consumers are drawn to statement-making products that reflect who they are and the way they live. They’re bored by anything that smacks of off-the-shelf, preferring goods that showcase their personal styles. Industries as diverse as automotive, design and fashion are responding, engaging online customers by giving them the ability to customize and personalize products through product configuration tools.

Can your company benefit from the growing demand for product configuration? If you offer products that have configurable options, there’s a good chance the answer is “Yes!”  So let’s look at why you should consider a product configurator and what it takes to be successful.

But first, why are user customization tools so popular?

Quite simply, consumers value personalization. Designing your own merchandise is a creative expression. Users enjoy the process and spend more time online as a result. What’s more, personalized products are conversation-starters. Attention-getters. It’s no wonder why consumers are excited by the opportunity to embrace this technology.

At the same time, product configuration offers retailers a number of business advantages:

Reduces Costs

Product configuration provides consumers with an accurate proof of the item they’re building so they know exactly what they’re getting. The result is fewer returns and lower shipping costs. Less inventory is needed, too. Retailers no longer have to stock shelves and warehouses with merchandise in hopes it sells.  Photography is another area of potential savings. By using 3D modeling, retailers require less photography on an ongoing basis.

Builds Buzz

Giving customers the ability to create, save and share custom projects inherently drives more traffic to your store and builds brand awareness. And that’s not all. When you give your customer an exceptional and memorable experience, they’ll reward you with their loyalty and advocacy. Consumers will promote their one-of-a-kind creations with friends, family and peers, while coming back themselves to make gifts for others.

Generates Insights

Product configuration gives you insights into your market base. Think of your consumers as a community of product developers and a built-in focus group. The designs they create and the favorites they vote for can give you invaluable market research. So now you know the benefits, let’s look at the user experience you need to deliver to reap the rewards. Since online product configurators were first introduced around the mid-‘90s, the technology has matured, providing the industry with a set of usability standards and best practices. If you’re planning to introduce a product configurator, here’s a 7-step guide to features and functionality:

1. Starting Point: Determine where the product configurator tool will reside on your site. We’ve seen great results with retailers who design a “Create your Own” page. You can also provide customization options within the product detail page.

Gemvera allows users to start customizing from their “Create” section or within a product detail page.

2. Designs for Inspiration: Provide a gallery of unique creations to inspire consumers, or provide themes they can use as a creative springboard from which to edit their designs.

At NikeiD users can start with a simple base sneaker or choose from an inspiration gallery to begin customizing.

3. Working Proof: Users should have the ability to see their creations in progress. The more angles the better. Provide features that allow customers to rotate the product, for instance, which will eliminate as much guesswork as possible. An image of the final creation should follow them straight through to check and your email confirmation.

Scion provides 360-degree angles at anytime of the configuration process

4. Intuitive Workflow: Keep the workflow moving in a linear fashion and always provide a progress bar to show consumers how close they are to completion. Do not disable the browser back button. Many users will turn to this button and bypass the configurator’s stepped progress buttons. That’s why it’s imperative the configuration tool support the use of the back button and not erase the customer’s work-in-progress.

5. Save, Share and Compare: Offer the ability to save their creations without having to purchase them. Consumers don’t always know what they want. Saving and comparing their work helps them through the decision process. And by allowing them to share their works-in-progress with friends, your store benefits from added visibility.

Puma shoppers can save their creations and share them with friends on social media or through a Puma generated web link.

6. Feedback Functionality: Have your configurator make suggestions based on the different design decisions the user is making throughout the process. You can also provide tips and explanations through a HELP icon.

7. The Big Picture: Include a persistent and clearly positioned summary so consumers can track their customizations and see how it effects pricing.

Apple clearly defines the customer’s choices with a persistent summary box in the top right corner. Savvy retailers are realizing the benefits of product configurators to engage their customers in new and more meaningful ways.  Even with the upfront costs required to build a customizer, a busy store implementing the right user experience could start seeing savings almost immediately.