Today I ran across Todd’s post on mass customization and a moment later I noticed that Brad DeLong had posted on the same topic. So I guess I’ll do what I said and report back on my recent experience with mass customization through BeyondFleece.com.
You might recall that Beyond makes high quality outerwear, sewn to the customers own measurements. I duly noted all my wife’s measurements, following all the instructions on the website. Their order confirmation communication was pretty quick. A short time later I received a brief status update, which advised me to watch the jacket’s progress on their website. It was like watching the clock. It actually took 8 or 9 days from the time I hit "submit" on the order form to the time the jacket began to be sewn. Seemed kinda long to me, but whatever. Two days before my wife’s birthday, I called the shop and asked whether the jacket could get to my house in time. They were super cool and expedited shipping at no charge.
The jacket arrived as promised and as soon as I took it out of the package, I knew it was too small. This was confirmed later in the day. What a bummer! The quality of the fabric and craftsmanship was unquestionable, but the thing seemed like it was at least two inches too small all the way around. Now, it’s designed to be a "fitted" jacket, but even so, it was pretty tiny.
Beyond has a great return policy, where they’ll rebuild the jacket if it doesn’t fit. Their return policy doesn’t say anything about a money back guarantee, though. I was ready to send it back and have them adjust it, as per their policy, but my wife really hated the fabric. What can you do about that? I called them and they were understandably reluctant to give me a refund, but they eventually relented. I felt pretty lousy about it too.
Now my wife is going to try again, but this time through Land’s End, which also has an unconditional return guarantee. So if she doesn’t like it, I don’t have to feel bad for returning it.
I’m pretty convinced that in order for mass customization to really get moving, companies are going to have to make the purchase as easy as buying standard stuff. I don’t want to feel bad about returning something that I’m not satisfied with, and the company ought to think ahead about how they’ll deal with that. If I see a "no return" policy on a customized piece, I’m definitely not going to buy it sight unseen. I’ll want to see and feel examples and I’ll want an experienced salesperson walking me through my purchase, assuring me that nothing will go wrong.
On the other hand, if a place like Land’s End will customize my clothes to fit my specs *and* they’ll refund my money if I don’t like it, there’s nothing to lose! Of course I’ll try it, and chances are I’ll keep on trying until they get it right. Once they get it right, if it’s a fabulous fit, I’ll be back with my new experience to help shape further purchasing decisions.
When comparing Beyond Fleece’s website with Land’s End, I couldn’t help but notice the extra lengths that Land’s End goes to in order to assure a correct fit. Lots and lots of contextual help, great diagrams for measurements, pre-populated number fields (which minimize my opportunity to fat-finger a measurement). All this combined with their guarantee makes me feel pretty good about a potentially risky buying decision.
I love high quality gear, and I suspect that Beyond Fleece actually makes a more rugged product than Land’s End. If left at that, I’d probably be a Beyond Fleece customer when my current jacket wears out. But we’ll see–my wife is trying out the Land’s End custom jacket process. If their product is close enough to Beyond’s, I’ll probably just cut down on the risk and go with them. I learned my lesson, I hope companies offering mass customization are learning theirs.