The Ikea effect, and putting the power in consumers' hands.


Ed Schmults, the CEO of Wild Things, is putting power in consumers' hands. He's aggressively pursuing a mass customization model that allows consumers to design their own apparel using several base models. It's similar to Nike ID shoes: consumers can choose fabrics, colors, zippers, pocket location, etc. in order to make the item that they desire. What's really intriguing about this initiative is the prospect for reducing the waste in the design, development, and production of products that are doomed to fail.

When I worked at Asics, I invested an enormous amount of time and energy on the redesign of our best-selling running shoe, the Gel 100-series. I wanted something fresh and different from anything we had done in the past, and I decided to use jelly rubber, rather than the traditional synthetic leather, stripes on the quarter panels. I was convinced that the shoe looked great, and that retailers and consumers would reward us for our new design.

Oops. Sales actually dropped 40% -- about $4 million. Consumers hated the new design. I single-handedly destroyed the pillar of our running line, because I was so emotionally invested in the idea.

The Ikea Effect describes how people like and value things in which they've invested their own effort. As researcher Daniel Mochon explains it,

Imagine that, you know, you built a table. Maybe it came out a little bit crooked. Probably your wife or your neighbor would see it for what it is, you know? A shoddy piece of workmanship. But to you that table might seem really great, because you're the one who created it. It's the fruit of your labor. And that is really the idea behind the Ikea Effect.

This is precisely what happened to me, and to countless other companies every year. Employees at every level of an organization get attached to the things they create -- plans, policies, products -- and are unable to see the weaknesses in them. In the case of product development and marketing, this can be a particularly expensive problem.

Ed Schmults says this about relinquishing control of design to the masses:

People say consumers can't design a good jacket, but the quality is ensured by the brand. Who are you to say what is ugly?

I think he's right. And I'd go one step further: allowing consumers to design their products is not only a part of the future of commerce, it can help immunize you and your business from the dangers of the Ikea Effect.

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