Thursday, September 4, 2008

Suggestion Box

I must first give the credit for this post to Natasha for her post about an online store. She suggested that the site offer a place where customers could design their own product (in this case, clothing) so they could have something they wanted without necessarily having to learn the skills necessary to create it. Basically, she described what I would call a virtual suggestion box.

One of the ideas I have found quite cool, for lack of a more articulate term, about the entrepreneurial orientation research I've been reading is that it mentions how companies can utilize their customers ideas to be more entrepreneurial. Many companies have surveys, others have suggestion boxes near the entrances or exits, and some allow customers to customize or personalize their purchases for a fee. Harnessing the creative power among customers could truly help a lot of businesses increase sales, improve profitability, and raise customer satisfaction. The virtual design center at IKEA.com provides a great example of how companies can help customers visualize their design of a room. Certainly clothing companies could hire some programmers to develop an interface that allows consumers to start from a basic idea (some outfit already on the market, perhaps) and input a few measurements to help with appropriate fitting. Then they could adjust certain areas of the outfit (e.g., add more material to the sleeve, lengthen the bottom of a shirt, or fluff out a pant leg) to make it more personal and (ideally) more satisfying as a purchase. How many women go shopping for hours to find one or two perfect outfits? I can imagine them spending those hours designing dozens of them instead. With an ensemble function, they could design all the pieces of a whole outfit. They could even accessorize right there online, all while sitting in their comfy sweats at home. Just imagine the new meaning of a day of shopping with girlfriends. They all gather at one house, let the kids play together and then surf the web together designing clothes.

In fact, I am guessing this idea is far too brilliant to not at least be in the works. If I were more interested in clothing, I might spend some time surfing clothing designers' websites looking for such a feature. Instead, I want to simply put the idea out there, admire the brilliance of it (it wasn't my idea, after all), and maybe after I've spent some time in a doctoral program, I could even research the companies that decide to take the suggestion to see whether they are, in fact, more profitable as a result. I suppose this could be my first "experiment" as a researcher.

-- Robert

6 comments:

Melissa said...

But Robert....half the fun is in the hunt! More than half actually!

It does sound cool though. I would use something like that for "buying things" as opposed to "shopping".

Robert said...

Melissa, you bring up a discussion my Dad loves to have. He sees himself as a buyer, while my Mom is a shopper. He goes to get something when he has a need and he buys the first thing that satisfies his criteria for the purchase. My Mom will go shopping even when there's not a specific need, just to check things out.

Some psychologists have argued it all goes back to the hunter mindset (men) versus the gatherers (women). I'm not one to say that, but it's funny you mention the enjoyment of the hunt.

Natasha said...

Well, somethings exist that are similar to what I suggested. Not really, but sort of. Land's End lets people customize their own clothes. THEY give the pattern and the fabric choices and the consumer chooses what goes where. Men's dress shirts, for example. Choose the collar, the cuffs, the pocket style, the fabric... and if you don't like it in the end, you get a full refund! Amazing. Also, there's this really popular design-your-own-handbag company: http://www.1154lill.com/home/ Nike has Nike ID.

But I know you understood what I was suggesting. It's like Facebook letting other companies design apps for Facebook. Gives Facebook more value, for free, but also great for the company who gets free press. More businesses need to do this. Business is changing big time and creativity is being valued more and more as a highly enviable business tool.

Robert said...

Natasha,

Thanks for answering what I suspected to be the case: websites are already doing what I was suggesting. And Melissa showed why it doesn't necessarily sell big among women - they'd rather discover it than make it in many cases. Still, I think it's great that companies are harnessing their customers' collective creativity in new and more imaginative ways. The marketplace of tomorrow might well be more customized than any market we've seen in the past. I'm excited to observe it.

Anonymous said...

OK, I hope your friend Natasha is not being serious about Al Gore INVENTING the internet. The real inventor (Tim Berners-Lee) probably doesn't care, but it is one of my pet peeves that Gore gets undue credit for something he probably couldn't even have dreamed about.

Robert said...

I am supremely confident she was joking, as almost anyone who suggests Gore invented anything surely is. It was almost certainly a tongue-in-cheek type of comment.