Mass customization is the use of computer-aided manufacturing to enable custom, individualized output for the production of goods and services. Advances in manufacturing make it possible to enable customization at the same low cost per unit found in mass production.
Mass customization is most common in electronics but is offered increasingly in merchandise like clothing, shoes, furniture and other products.
There are four types of mass customization:
- Collaborative customization - the needs of the customer are understood and followed as part of the manufacturing process.
- Adaptive customization - a basic product is made for customers who then customize it to their needs.
- Transparent customization - customers are provided with unique offerings without being told they are customized.
- Cosmetic customization - products are offered in different formats to entice different customers.
Generally, customization of products occurs directly after the customer orders and adds their desired specifications. Differentiation of products produced in mass customization is pushed as far back in the manufacturing process as possible. Delaying differentiation until the end increases efficiency and allows for part of the process of manufacturing to be completed prior to ordering.
Mass customization can be seen as a form of collaborative engineering between manufacturers and customers. In this collaboration, the manufacturer seeks to offer its capacity for custom manufacture as a solution to customers while gaining the customers who might otherwise not have a product suited to their needs.
As a concept, mass customization is credited to Stan Davis, who coined the term in his 1987 book Future Perfect.