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Deloitte’s latest Consumer Review analyses the mass-personalisation of consumer goods – a fast-growing trend that has significant implications for the real estate within retailers’ supply chains.

Four out of every five consumers would be willing to pay at least 10% extra to have an item of clothing personalised: so say the findings of the latest Deloitte Consumer Review. Striking a chord with anyone who’s ever longed for their own creative stamp on the things they buy, the research analyses the growing demand for personalisation and customisation of mass-market consumer goods. Taste, as they say, is a matter of taste, so is the bigger picture here the worry that too much choice will see us in shocking colour combinations that really shouldn’t see the light of day? Hopefully not. But if the option is there, who wouldn’t value the ability to tweak the appearance of a pair of trainers, or purchase a bike that has exactly the right size frame?

Of course, personalisation isn’t exactly a new idea – before the time of Adam Smith and his famous observations on the efficiencies of pin production, all goods were effectively one-off, custom-made items. The difference today is that after centuries of honing our skills as very efficient mass producers, technology is creating opportunities for a much greater degree of product variation – and crucially, at a cost that both producers and consumers feel able to justify. This is, in fact, just one of the areas covered by the report, and in particular, there is some fascinating analysis of the products and services most likely to be customised and personalised.

However, as with a lot of the technological advances we’ve seen in the retail industry over the past 20 years, the flashy new ideals presented to consumers can create their fair share of head-scratching behind the scenes, as the industry works out how, in practical terms, these new concepts are delivered to consumers – whilst turning a profit. Real estate isn’t always front of mind, but in our experience, is majorly impacted by these kinds of changes. Sometimes the impact is easy to observe, such as when a retailer decides online sales reduce the number of physical stores required, but often it’s less obvious. Product customisation is an example of where the impact on real estate is less easy to see, because much of it involves what happens in the warehouses within a supply chain – themes we’ve covered in more detail in our Shed of the Future report.

As part of that research programme, we looked at the real estate impact of personalisation, which can sometimes involve delaying part of the manufacturing process to the latest stage possible, so that finishing touches can be applied in the warehouse. This requires space, and either technology, people, or both. And having created a batch of personalised items, the warehouse technology to enable total stock visibility is even more important than ever – receiving someone else’s dubious idea of style by mistake is unlikely to be brand enhancing. On the other hand, creating more personalised goods may increase the share of customers who are happy with their purchase and don’t feel the need to return it. If that is the case, then the part of the value to retailers is in reducing the growing pile of returned items that they have to deal with, mainly as a result of online orders.

Digging deeper, there are clearly many more implications for retail supply chains and the way that real estate is used within them. True, most warehouse customisation is still likely to fall to tenants themselves - developers and landlords will not want to bear the cost of major changes in physical configuration unless it is required by a majority of occupiers, and ultimately results in a better return through enhanced rents or quicker disposal time. Setting this debate aside, however, the personalisation trend identified in the latest Consumer Review simply serves to reinforce our view that warehouses have long since ceased to be simple storage and distribution facilities – they are themselves becoming more bespoke, and much more central to retailers’ businesses.

Will Matthews blog

Will Matthews - Head of Research, Deloitte Real Estate

Will is responsible for overseeing and producing Deloitte’s broad range of unique, forward-looking commercial real estate research.  Will joined Deloitte in 2010 after a number of years focusing on European commercial property markets. Email LinkedIn | Twitter

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