Customisation is also defined as ‘making products which are tailor-made to each individual’s request’ (Whitelock, 2003). From a company perspective it is defined as the ‘ability to provide customers with whatever you want, wherever they want and however they want it’ (Bardakci, 1995). The above definitions suggest that customisation has different meanings from various authors as not every author generally agrees what the term really means. However, almost all the definitions generally agree that customisation is something to do with designing a product or service tailored to the needs of the individual customer.
Many authors are quite uncertain as to what role the Internet plays regarding customisation/personalisation. However, it should be emphasised that over the last few years more and more companies are offering customised products online – thus the Internet plays an important role towards customisation/personalisation (Evans, 2001).
Companies are making use of the Internet to offer users more customised options. For example, the company Proctor ; Gamble lets all shoppers customise their online shopping features. It lets all users choose from a range of features from skincare to colour, hair care and gifts. Users can also select a variety of features suited to their taste, such as personalised gifts and can add small accessories, such as fragrances; from its reflect.com website. This type of customisation is called cosmetic customisation (see appendix1.1) and it is argued that ‘customisation is likely to increase and may become a necessity is some sectors of the industry’ (Keenan, 2002). This helps to illustrate that the Internet is still playing an important role in customisation/personalisation.
Another factor which supports the above view is that the sometimes some websites offer users a chance to plan their whole special occasion online. For example, the website Theknot.com gives all users an option to organise their wedding online – users can select their own gowns, accessories, honeymoons (see appendix 1.3). This gives all couples a unique experience in planning their weddings. It is argued by Raimondi (2004) that the Internet has ‘changed the way’ people are planning their services. Therefore, this point helps to highlight the fact that the role of the Internet is quite major in personalisation of occasions such as weddings. Moreover, it helps to point out that more and more companies will look towards the Internet in implementing their products and services online.
Sometimes certain online shopping portals take part in collaborative customisation (see appendix 2). This is when a firm conducts a dialogue with customers to help them identify their needs, to see what product that best matches their needs and therefore seeks to create products for them. For example, when a user purchases something from Amazon.com information is automatically stored so next time a user logs on to his/her account the website gives similar recommendations based on the user’s interests in products beforehand. This is sometimes called external customisation and is done by sending out emails, banner adverts, and affiliate websites to customers so that their needs can be tailored specifically. Does this therefore mean that the Internet is most likely to be a key player in the future, for products and services?
For example, is a user registers on Yahoo! or on Amazon.com then the next time the person logs back on to the site the website will greet the person by his/her name, e.g. “welcome back, Mrs. Smith”. This technology allows the personalisation of websites and suggests that the Internet plays a major role. However, the major drawback is that if the user deletes cookies from their hard drive then most of the information about the person is lost. Moreover, if a user uses a number of different machines then different cookies will store different information from the same user. Nevertheless, cookies are important in enabling personalisation of websites (Dewan, 2003).
The firm Nissan uses customisation technology – ICON (Integrated Customer Ordering Network). This technology allows users to build-and-order manufacturing parts for cars and was one of the first firm who used this type of technology (Moozakis, 2002). This illustrates that Nissan views the Internet as important in assisting its customisation technology. Moreover, it suggests that despite the fact that new technologies are constantly discussed Nissan is in the early adaptor phase in the diffusion-adoption curve. Amazon.com also uses personalisation technology. In 2002 it started to target early adopters and creating ‘early adopter score’ for target consumers. This helps again to illustrate the fact that a giant retail online shopping site like Amazon.com regards the Internet as important in technology to enable personalisation and customisation (Wolf, 2003).
Hanson argues that personalisation technology is relevant to the DNI framework (see appendix 2.1). This comprises of Digital Capabilities, using the network and individuals working (Hanson 2000). The importance of the DNI framework is that it makes extensive use of the Internet to develop personalised websites.
WAP also makes use of customised technology. Although its popularity has not quite taken off over the years, since its launch, it is pointed out by Smith (2001), that WAP have even more customised features, pop-up menus and will make extensive use of XHTML coding – Internet security style. This helps to point out that users can use customised technology from their phones and supports the view that ‘related technologies’ like WAP help keep this technology growing. Moreover, it suggests that the Internet is still a key player in customisation/personalisation.
The website tshirtstudio.com (http://www.tshirtstudio.com) uses digital technology to offer its users a chance to design and customise t-shirts online (see appendix 2.2). This technology enables customisation and personalisation because the user is able to design his or her own style of t-shirt according to their style and taste. This example helps to point out that the digital technology used by tshirtstudio is important on the Internet.
Technology plays a key role for some firms. However, it is emphasised that personalisation technology is more popular in Business-to-Business (B2B) relationships where privacy is not an issue (Wilson, 2001). However, it is argued that other technology is now being employed such as recommendation engines, one broad category, data-mining analytics, algorithms and artificial intelligence are used to analyse an individual’s behaviour patterns. More and more companies are employing new customised/personalised technology. For example, IBM, Oracle and Sybase Inc use ‘dynamic profiling technology’ (Nemes, 2001). This technology enables the marketer to customise the website in real-time whilst the user navigates. Therefore, does this mean that new technology is most likely to see an increase in customised/personalised websites?
There are numerous benefits of customisation/personalisation to consumers and organisations. It should therefore be asked whether these benefits are important in supporting the view that the Internet plays an important role in enabling customisation/personalisation. One of the major benefits of personalisation for the consumer is that by creating a welcoming atmosphere around a website it makes visitors feel special and unique. For example, websites like Yahoo! and My Aol remembers the name of their users and also websites like Amazon.com store shipping addresses (Hunt, 1998). Another benefit for consumers is that techniques such as collaborative analysis, links and pictures can also give a different experience altogether. Therefore, this helps to illustrate that the consumer enjoys the benefits of customisation features.
Another benefit of customisation/personalisation to the consumer is that the user has the time and comfort of designing his or her product or service from the comfort of their home (see appendix 2.3). For example, the website timissimo.com lets users customise their watches from having their own text, colour and own customised dial of the watch. It uses Macromedia Flash technology. This helps to illustrate that the consumer does not have to go through the option of relying on the manufacturer – the consumer is the manufacturer her/himself.