Have you ever wondered if offering your customers the ability to customise your products would boost sales? Well yes it does, here is why and how to do it.

Until today, businesses have been restricting access to customised products by following what is known as blockbuster strategies. Traditional distribution channel actors such as distributors and retailers have been trying to maximise returns from limited space in stores. They focused their marketing efforts on a couple of likely bestsellers that would capture the mass market. This approach involves betting on blockbusters in order to hit large revenues and cover losses from the untapped market.

Today, Internet and related technologies expand the variety of products offered to consumers. Traditional brick-and-mortar channels can now be overcome either through online purchases sent by postal services or digitalisation of products such as music and movies. The book market provides a good example of this evolution. While a typical brick-and-mortar bookstore has between 40,000 and 100,000 different titles in stock, the Internet retailer Amazon offers more than 3 million books. The difference, which is all the books that cannot be found in traditional bookstores, accounts for 30-40% of Amazon’s sales. Similar observations have been made in other online markets such as music, movies, video games and electronics. This phenomenon has been described by Chris Anderson as the Long Tail of product demand. The illustration below shows sales distribution between mainstream products (hits) and products that are unprofitable through traditional distribution channels (niche products).

Source: Elberse, 2008

Anderson’s theory implies that online channels shift the demand towards a much larger number of niche products. The Internet expands product offering and lowers related search costs. Customers value niche products because they better suit their demand compared to bestselling products. There is a growing demand for these products, which flattens the long tail of the demand curve. Ultimately, companies adopting this strategy should derive more revenue from the long tail than from hits. On the supply side, there is an opportunity for companies to dramatically reduce inventory storage and distribution expenses. These cost reductions are made possible by e-commerce (rather than physical stores), make-to-order production (instead of make-to-stock) and digital products when possible (rather than physical products).

 In order to reach the long tail, customisation is often cited as an efficient business strategy. Customisation allows individual needs to be completely met, resulting in a higher perceived value. A recent survey shows that 36% of consumers are interested in personalised products, and this number even goes up to 46% for the 25-30 age group. These results confirm the potential revenue from the long tail.

 In the case of manufactured products, trying to reach the long tail has always been risky. Traditional methods aiming at customising products rely on modularity and postponement. This requires efficient supply chain management to achieve a decent level of responsiveness. 3D printing is a solution to this problem as it is less dependent on economies of scale. Therefore, customised products can be created at a reasonable cost. 

The problem is that high-volume customised 3D printing is only feasible when working with multiple 3D printing suppliers. However, dealing with a wide range of suppliers is a major hassle in order assignment and follow-up, quality control and performance monitoring. Dimension4 has developed D4 Print and D4 Services to give medium-to-large businesses seamless access to professional, distributed 3D printing capacity for high-volume mass customisation of end-consumer products, as well as digital manufacturing of industrial spare parts. Companies with a large customer base active in mass customisation, e-retail, spare parts or the medical industry, will find D4 Print to be a highly effective stepping stone towards 3D manufacturing that will in turn accelerate their growth.

By providing a unified interface to the professional 3D printing industry, smart order routing algorithms and a dashboard interface, our solution D4 Print gives these companies flexible access to over 150 part material and finishing options, available across the globe.

Dimension4 makes high-volume customised 3D printing easily accessible, manageable & reliable!