Competitive Effects of Mass Customization
horizontal di fferentiation, price competition, customization, brand familiarity, product knowledge
Earlier theoretical literature on mass customization maintains that customization reduces product differentiation and intensifies price competition. In contrast, operations management studies argue that customization serves primarily to differentiate a company from its competitors. Interactive involvement of the customer in product design creates an affective relationship with the firm, relaxing price competition. This paper provides a model that incorporates consumer involvement to explain the phenomena described in the operations management literature. Two firms on the Hotelling line compete for a continuum of consumers with heterogeneous brand preferences. An exogenously given fraction of consumers is potentially interested in customization. Consumer benefits from customization are the rewards from a special shopping experience and the value of product customization (better fitting product); these benefits are higher for consumers located closer to the customizing brand. When a consumer purchases a customized product, he incurs the waiting cost. The firms decide whether to offer customization, then engage in price competition. I show that customization increases the ``stickiness" of a consumer to the customizing firm, leading to less intense price competition. As mass customization becomes more efficient (the lead time goes down and/or the sunk costs decrease), customization by one or both firms occurs in equilibrium. I perform comparative statics analysis with respect to the fraction of consumers potentially interested in customization.