These days we are seeing more and more initiatives that enable customers to personalise their own items such as clothing and spectacles via the Internet, using specially written applications. This should certainly encourage growth in the sector.
In France, personalised manufacture at an affordable price is increasingly becoming a competitive channel for companies in all sectors. Les Nouveaux Ateliers (the new workshops) offer tailor-made suits at affordable prices by means of a ‘virtual trying-on booth’ which takes a scan of the customer’s measurements and then arranges for the item to be tailor-made at low cost. Another example is in the eyewear industry. The Atol opticians’ cooperative offers customers the means of designing the arms of their own spectacle frames on its website. The personalised arms will then be sent to the customer, who can then just clip them on to his/her existing glasses. In Spain, a project in the same vein offers to personalise both frames and lenses. The European Project Made4U consortium, which works on business models for user-centred products, has created a system - combining a scanner and a virtual try-on – which enables customers to design their own glasses. Whether we are talking about the design or the optical correction s/he needs, the purchaser can customise both frames and lenses to suit his/her own taste.
The system, which has been developed by the Instituto de Biomecánica, based in the Spanish city of Valencia, "perfectly illustrates the current dream of a ‘single or small series’ approach to industrial production, along the lines of DIY and craftsmanship,” underlined Henri Verdier, President of Cap Digital, (the ‘business cluster for digital content’) who gave his views to L'Atelier. He believes that digital technology will help fulfil the promise of an industry which is trying to break free from the bonds of mass production and move on to making individual personalised items which will carry strong emotional and sentimental appeal for the customer. "At a more general level you get the feeling that digital technology is in the process of industrialising the service sector," Henri Verdier pointed out. The challenge will then to some extent be about whether occupations that are today thought of as services will be preserved locally or outsourced abroad. Right now this approach could, for example, shake up the traditional demarcation lines between eye specialists, opticians, and the firms which make glasses. From a technical point of view, the Made4U system will be on offer at the opticians. The measuring is done by a scanner, which in a few seconds records the customer’s face measurements plus the optometric measurements that will enable defective vision to be corrected.
Fusion of design and customisation
Once the system has this information, which is kept on file, the customer can design his/her glasses according to the colour, shape, style, decoration, etc that s/he wishes. S/he can also choose suitable lenses and then see the result via a virtual try-on process. The optician can assist the customer all the way through to the final purchase decision. The model the customer chooses will then be sent to one of the partner manufacturers in the consortium and the new glasses will be delivered within a maximum of four weeks. "If we look at Apple’s strategy, we see that the company’s success resulted from a combination of design on the one hand, and the potential for personalisation on the other," explained Henri Verdier. However, he added the proviso that "you have to find the right balance, but you need to get into production mode quickly before other countries seize the niche." And moreover this model could apply to many other industries, he pointed out.