While in years past, customers learned to be satisfied with basic product choices and functionality and only a few customizable options to suit personal taste.
Think Henry Ford and his famous Model T when, in 1909, he advised the public that “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”
At that time, Ford was thinking more about production efficiency, output, and lower cost to enhance volume sales than about offering other colors and accessories that only may appeal only to a few.
Times have changed. Worldwide, more people are choosing to purchase goods online because of the ease of making their selection, availability of information, and having the luxury of transacting without having to manage crowds, rows of shelves, and transit times. In 2018, retail eCommerce in the United States totaled a massive $504.6 billion. The data includes all business-to-consumer (B2C), business-to-business (B2B), and even consumer-to-consumer sales.
With today’s technology and design capability to add and adapt variables to sell customized finished products, combinations of variables can become nearly infinite.
Online product configurators today play an essential role in reaching out to customers to help them find precisely the product they may be seeking.
A product configurator displays products in ways that allow consumers to start with a base model and choose from among several options to create a highly customized end product. While most buyers select from a small set of variables before purchasing, those with a more detailed idea of what they need may fine-tune their choice with more “advanced” options.
In contrast to Henry Ford’s original “one-size-fits-all” approach to car buying, every automobile manufacturer today includes a “Build and Price” element to their website. Consumers in search of a specific vehicle or wishing to compare vehicles can begin with a single model and proceed to add option choices to create a final customized selection. You may choose from a list of models from basic to fully-loaded, different engine sizes, front or all-wheel drive exterior, exterior color and styling, interior color and seat surface materials, sunroof, equipment packages plus electronics, entertainment systems, accessories, and more.
Once you have configured all the options into a final product, the suggested retail price spits out that gives you have a basis for a decision.
Although most automobiles are still not purchased online, buyers often use configurators to help make their decision before heading to the dealership.
Internet-driven eCommerce has radically changed the way buyers make selections. As a result, eCommerce companies continually study ways to reach out to potential customers.
While manufacturers have upgraded their production capabilities to produce multiple configurations, no storefront retailers can possibly carry the millions of combinations in stock. Even huge Home Depot, for example, offers in-store and online configurators for ordering carpets, refrigerators, blinds, and many other multi-variable products.
While configurators are very important for online conversions, even smaller storefront retailers now provide these for highly specific products.
Traditionally, a consumer’s path-to-purchase involved an initial stimulus, such as a TV or online advertisement. Then follows an initial moment of truth as they spied a product on the shelf or in a catalog. Finally, the second moment of truth occurs with the decision of whether to purchase or not.
However, with the growth of eCommerce and social media, online retailers have found that new sophistications like interactivity and configuration are essential to generating better information and quicker conversions.
The most significant enabler of eCommerce, Google, describes a critical decision point for online shoppers as the Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT. This moment is when a potential buyer decides to research a product before making their purchasing decision.
The key to addressing the consumers Zero Moment of Truth is “being there,” readily available with a tool to help them almost instantly visualize the finished product by showing the variables, allowing them to configure the final product, and presenting the cost. Successful conversions can occur after the consumer has generated this information.
Configurators shorten the time from research to conversion, answering all the necessary questions about product description, options, and cost in a matter of minutes.
For eCommerce retailers, helping the customer while giving them free rein to make their own choices is the target. Configurators create an avenue to do this.
Allowing consumers to configure products in their own time in their personal setting has several advantages for the eCommerce retailer.
Configurators can be used for any type of product that is purchased with a choice of several variables. Producers are finding the tools useful for helping consumers define their specific options more easily. And, with advanced production methods and the ability to ship overnight, when requested, the buyer can begin enjoying their customized products only a few days after they experienced the original notion to research an item.
Companies large and small in just about every industry are implementing easy-to-use configurators to support consumer decision to purchase.
Here’s a short list of companies in different industries that employ configurators to simplify their selling process:
Tie Creators, U.K. makers of customized ties and matching accessories
Puget Systems, U.S. company producing customized computers
Adidas, Sports footwear company that allows customers to customer athletic shoes online
Levelor, Blinds manufacturer enables you to choose by style, size, color, and other features
PrideBites, Pet supply company allows consumers to select dog beds by size, materials, color
VistaPrint, Office supply company that customized business cards according to your preference
Any company with products that have two or variables, even if they are merely size and color, can benefit by incorporating a well-designed configurator in their website. The process engages the consumer while encouraging them to look more deeply into your website and product listings.
A properly incorporated configurator is interactive and provides data well beyond the single transaction. Configurators allow prospective consumers to assemble precisely the product they are seeking while the accumulation of many such activities offers excellent information for company marketers.
In the first instance, a consumer’s visualization of the final design will generate related offers for associated accessories and products to complement the configured product.
Also, a configurator may ask for the buyer’s information before beginning the process or before the customer can see their final configuration. This data provides information for the company to use for follow-up marketing.
The data gained through the initial configuration can generate active sales leads for representatives to follow up directly.
According to a January 2019 Forbes Report, Salesforce’s CPQ (configure, price, quote) integration is a leader in the configurator market. The system is designed to create accurate visual representations of any product and represents essential sales support for many businesses.
Always with a clear understanding of consumers’ moments of truth, Amazon has introduced its Amazon Showroom, a virtual design space to create, configure, and arrange furniture in a virtual room or area.
Tacton, a company that creates manufacturing software solutions, has created Smart CPQ, that connects the customer, sales force, and factory for the design and sale of complex or multi-option products that reduce time and errors.
To understand how vital configuration tools are in eCommerce, check out the Cyledge Configurator database. This website tracks the number of existing configurators currently in place listed by industry, country, and product.
With more information, the convenience, speed of production, pricing, accuracy, and delivery though configurators in only minutes, traditional storefront and online marketers will begin to lag noticeably.
Among the benefits, eCommerce configurators:
Effectively positioned configurators for your products can transform your eCommerce platform in several constructive ways, making you a more dynamic and responsive marketer.