One-size-fits-all is dead. In certain categories, the assembly line approach kicked the bucket a long time back, in some cases even decades ago – for example, it’s hard to remember when you couldn’t customise your car.

Indeed, the ability for a consumer to have some sort of input into what they buy has crossed every industry and nearly every part of the globe. And it’s the very pervasiveness of customization that makes the trend what it is today: an expectation. And one that consumers simply won’t do without.

Moreover, consumers have come to see ‘have it my way’ as more than just a fun, frivolous way to express their personality (or as just a fast food chain slogan), but as a recognition that no two people, and no two people’s needs, are the same.

And as we increasingly see ourselves as complex, multifaceted, or even ‘multi-identitied’, we’ve simply lost patience for things that don’t recognize and cater to our oh-so individual needs.

In some ways that poses a challenge for brands: Consumers won’t make do with something that’s not made to order. But it also presents a huge opportunity, and a financial benefit to boot: by allowing consumers to get exactly what they want, when and how they want it, brands not only build a more personal relationship, they can also avoid wasting money, time and resources on things their consumer doesn’t want.


The desire to make something your own stems from two beliefs. First, that you are unique. Second, that you know yourself, and what you need, better than anyone else.

Fashion is a good example of this. Personalization today is about more than just choosing from a wider range of colors, prints and patterns, it’s also about creating elements of items from scratch.

26% of consumers name “customisation” (the ability to create your own elements of the shoe) as an important influencing factor of their shoe purchase. This jumps to 40% amongst 18-24-year-olds.

Shopping for Men’s and Women’s Footwear Study in US, June 2012

And we’re seeing this call for customizable details answered in terms of both fit and form: Reebok has created a new range of running shoes that can be molded to the wearer’s foot and luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin has launched a bespoke shoe embroidery service for his range of men’s shoes, with designs drawing on his love of tattoo art.

The new Reebok U-Form+ is designed to ‘shrink to fit’ and mould.


To be sure, consumers express their individuality through their style: 31% of women are looking for a better range of styles when shopping for clothes, as per Mintel’s Women’s Clothes Shopping US October 2013 report and 41% of men would be encouraged to shop more for clothing if they could find styles they like more easily, according to Mintel’s Men’s Attitudes Toward Clothes Shopping US March 2012 report.

The belief that “I know who I am, I know what I need” is influencing fashion, home, as well as food and drink experiences.

45% of consumers said they would like more choice to personalize food, according to Mintel’s Chicken Burger Bars UK September 2012 report.

Mintel’s White Spirits and RTDs US November 2012 report, 72% of consumers prefer to control how strong their drink is rather than have it ready mixed for them.

Being able to customize or build your own scents interests almost half (45%) of UK consumers, including 14% who are very interested in this idea, as per Mintel’s Air Fresheners UK September 2013 report.

We’ve seen Coca-Cola promoting its new mini bottles in Israel by giving drinkers the chance to print a miniature figurine of themselves. Logbar is a new Tokyo bar that encourages patrons to create custom cocktails as well as social media interaction and ZNAK “Tears off” wallpaper lets consumers customize their décor.

Here’s a great digital innovation from Tokyo cocktail bar Logbar, a tablet-based interactive cocktail menu


Still, self-expression plays a powerful role. After all, what we wear, drive or have on our playlists says a lot about who we are. That’s why in many cases, consumers are looking for 100% control over their customization, no longer satisfied with just choosing from a pre-selected list of choices.

Take the digital space. Consumers are rarely without their phones or mobile devices and they use these gadgets to help define who they are.


Marketing to Millennials August 2014 report shows that 32% of all consumers said that smartphone apps help people express their personalities.

Telecommunications provider, BT, is attempting to add more viewer discretion to its television services, with the launch of a new range of subscription packages and more companies are introducing the chance for consumers to have a hand in creating their accessories and devices.

Finally, it’s important to note that, like everything else, consumers have become empowered to take customization into their own hands, no longer dependent on brands to offer up the tools to do it.

Sites like spreadshirt, customink and cafepress make designing your own T-shirt literally as simple as a few clicks of the mouse. That means no more trudging off to the screen printer for that perfectly phrased message T-shirt.


And for the most die-hard DIY customizers, 3D printing has opened up new opportunities for creating custom projects, models, and even gifts and food.

The Atomium is a 3D printing concept device that lets users create customized shapes and objects out of food.

The Atomium is a 3D printing concept device by Electrolux Design Lab
The Atomium is a 3D printing concept device by Electrolux Design Lab


More retailers are offering printing services and a new desktop plastics recycling system has been called a “game changer” by making home 3D printing more affordable and the least expensive 3D printer yet is increasing accessibility even more.

We’re also seeing customization and individuality enter the world of retail and advertising landscapes.

Argentine laundry brand Skip has launched a new marketing campaign on YouTube to promote its fabric detergent wherein consumers can control what happens and Synqera is a Russian marketing tech company that has created a system to read shoppers’ emotions in the supermarket and offer them deals based on these real-time feelings.


Do consumers always know what’s best for themselves? In certain categories, it’s hard to argue with individual preferences. But there are other, arguably more complicated categories, where consumers can benefit from a little pre-personalisation guidance. Finance, for example, is a category in which each consumer’s need is very unique, but their level of expertise may be all over the map.

Just because I like it this way now doesn’t mean I’ll like it this way tomorrow (after all, I’m complicated!). Brands can add an extra layer to their customisation cachet by making it more dynamic. For example, in the home space we’ve started to see interior lighting that can be modified in smarter ways. Considering how in flux the household is these days – what with multi-generational living, pre-marriage cohabitation, etc – the ability to customize, then customize again (and again) holds great appeal.

Certainly the internet has taken personalization to new levels, and when it comes to convenience and sheer choice, nothing beats it. But we continue to see consumers embrace tactile experience, and there are plenty of opportunities for brands to make customizing more automatic. While customised discounts to rely on accessing personal data shared on social media may appeal to many consumers, issues of privacy and fairness are important for retailers to keep in mind as well.