Whether you admit it or not, there is some insane part of some of us that enjoys putting IKEA furniture together.

Just when I think this is about the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, I glance over at my IKEA pine dresser, which I put together with my own two hands and the weird little wrench that came with the package. We’ve been dancing around throwing the furniture out for about three years, but every time push comes to shove, it stays. Why? Because I put the thing together with my own two hands and some weird little wrench.

ikea affect

That, my friends, is the IKEA effect. We all think we’d pay more for furniture that’s already assembled and ready to use, but the real truth is that we love the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with something we built ourselves. While we may pay for convenience, we value investment.

But What About Instant Gratification?

Interestingly enough, this brings us right back to the old “instant gratification vs. sweet anticipation” debate. How do we reconcile the want-it-now with the innate desire to customize?

Many companies will ignore that desire for customization and simply offer everything ready-made and ready-to-use. There is a market for that, of course. Not everyone gets excited at the prospect of breaking out the tools to build their own desk. Some people would probably rather cut off their own arm to avoid assembly of any kind.

One might argue—okay, I might argue—that these people have simply never felt that sense of accomplishment after completing a project. Or maybe it’s been so long since they experienced it, they’ve forgotten what it feels like. Without that understanding, these who prefer instant gratification couldn’t possibly value customization over immediate availability.

But What If I Don’t Sell Furniture?

Allowing customers the potential for customization can occur with almost any product. If you sell pre-printed T-shirts, consider a creation tool that allows buyers to design their own, too. In fact, design-your-own can work across pretty much anything you sell, though a few things would probably be pointless to customize.

One company that has nearly perfected the art of ecommerce and customization is Indochino, a leader in “made to measure” menswear. The basic premise is that online shoppers can measure themselves, build snazzy-looking suits on the website and then sit back to await delivery of their very own custom threads. Not only can buyers select the material, finishes, lengths, and styles, they also get a monogrammed pocket so the suit belongs to them alone.

Customers may not have the chance to tailor the suits themselves, but they can be a part of the process from start to finish. The company gives access to videos and text updates so buyers can watch their suits being made from start to finish. The ability to stay involved means customers are happy to wait while their clothing is created. And when the suits arrive, you can be sure they’ll take precedence over any off-the-rack suit in the closet.

Of course, custom suits also cost more than prêt-à-porter, but buyers don’t have a problem paying extra.

Why? The IKEA effect.

The same principle even applies to ecommerce companies that sell food. Consider eCreamery, an ice cream and gelato company that allows consumers to create a fully customized pint of ice cream from start to finish. Sure, the pints cost more than any Ben & Jerry’s flavor at your local grocery store, but it’s personalized. Buyers can build it and then enjoy the sweet, sweet reward.

How It Applies to Customized Ecommerce Products

Obviously, the business models for IKEA, Indochino, and eCreamery were created around the customization concept. Your ecommerce business would probably not survive a full overhaul such as this.

Before you throw your hands up and decide you just can’t hop on the IKEA effect train, consider smaller ways to get your customers involved.

There’s the idea mentioned earlier of allowing customers to create their own designs for T-shirts, mugs, and stickers. You could also provide various choices on technology equipment so buyers get exactly what they want. Instead of showing ready-made [ecommerce item #1] for $40 and ready-made [ecommerce item #2] for $60, give them the option of choosing all the components themselves. They’ll probably end up assembling the same product as ready-made [ecommerce item #2], but they’ll be a lot happier about paying more for it.

You’ll probably find there are more ways to allow for customization than you ever thought possible. Spend some time examining your products. How could buyers get in on the action and build at least a part of the products they want to buy? Whatever customization opportunities you can give, think about going for it.

Of course, you should also consider providing some ready-made items, too. You know, for those people who still really want instant gratification. This seems to be the answer for Dell, which made its fortune offering customized PCs.

ecommerce customization

Dude, you’re getting customized ecommerce product offerings!

Dell’s model of on-demand customization can add significant strain to your operations and logistics processes, however. Burger King, where you can “Have It Your Way”, is far less capable of functioning at periods of peak demand than, say, McDonald’s, which doesn’t let you customize your order.

Customization, by definition, adds variation to your business processes which makes you less efficient. However, most modern mid-sized and even large ecommerce businesses aren’t competing for marginal profitability with sites like Amazon and Ebay, their value proposition is around a better educational and buying experience and more customized service. Two options–customized and ready-to-use–provide solutions for computer users at all levels.

Is that a model that could also work for your ecommerce company?

Sure, as an ecommerce company, it’s easier to sell products “off the shelf.” Inventory is easier, but what kind of relationships will you build with your customers? Why would they come back for more or recommend you to others? Why should they spend more money later and be excited about the items they buy?

You don’t have to make every product you offer customizable. But giving buyers the chance to add their own personal touch to their purchases goes a long way toward building a connection, a rapport. It gets them excited about your company and the things you sell.

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