Product Configurators as Market Research Tools

Product configurators are becoming more and more common as manufacturers take advantage of consumers’ hunger for personalized goods. One category where this is particularly popular is shoes.

Brands like Vans, K Swiss, Etnies, Shoes of Prey, Puma, Converse, Reebok and Timberland are a few examples.

I while back I had a chat with Heather Frost, Ecommerce Merchandise Manager from Timberland to discuss Timberland’s product configurator.

Timberland launched their custom boot builder with one boot style in 2004. In 2005, 6 more patterns were added. The tool was more successful than Timberland had anticipated. In the last year, the configurator was redesigned to accommodate the addition of 4 handsewn boat shoe styles.

Customers can start from scratch or select from an “inspiration” (designed by Heather herself), including scarlet, screaming green and pastel pink.

The configurator has a stepped process:

Product Configurator as Market Research

Offering this tool helps Timberland collect customer feedback in a unique way. Web analytics helps Timberland track which are the most popular leather uppers, midsoles, outsoles and collar. Top sellers are reviewed twice per year.

For example, Timberland found for classic men’s boots, most customers were taking the classic design and colors and simply adding initials or tweaking very little. Women go out on a limb a bit more with their boots but still choose conservative color tones. Handsewn boat shoes attract a younger, dare-to-be-different customer and funkier designs reflect that demographic. Asian orders are the wildest by far.

Keeping tabs on what customers build for themselves helps Timberland merchandise across channels and determine which new styles might work for the mainstream.

Perhaps we at Elastic Path should gear up with custom EP boots for our next staff outing Vancouver’s famous hiking trail, the Grouse Grind?

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9 Responses to “Product Configurators as Market Research Tools”

  1. I use a Configurator at, for some reason Nike has had someone design shoes that are plan ugly. When I design my own, it cost more and takes longer to receive since they are building the shoe from scratch but I like it alot better and it look 100 times better too……

    Shoes is one place you can use a Configurator not every business can.

  2. I was involved in launching one of the first flash configurators while working at Timbuk2 Designs in the late 90′s and was back at Timbuk2 as the eCom Director in 2007.
    In my experience, customized products are much more meaningful to the end user- essentially more “their” bag/shoe/case/etc than other products in the same categories. As such the product is more meaningful and in turn more promoted (tagged on flickr and mentioned on facebook/twitter/etc).

    Involving your customers in the product development process almost always brings more benefit than you expect, whether it’s with a configurator or some other tool.

  3. Great timing on this post. My company offers a configurator tool that was used to build the product customizer for, where every bag is built to order. The difference between our configurator and traditional one-off Flash configurators is performance (no browser refreshing), easy to edit and maintain (it changes daily), and the customizer includes guidance and recommendation as provided by Rickshaw instead of simply allowing any and all combinations. The experience is like having a personal consultation with a product expert.

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  7. Wow! The Timberland configurator is really nicely done. I especially like the videos of the actual manufacturing process they have implemented at the beginning of the designing process! Only the sound effects seem a bit strange to me. And I rather would have put the selection of the initials at the end of the process so their color can be matched with the leather of the shoes, but that a minor points! A pity they don’t deliver to Europe!

  8. Product Configurators will also help a company to:
    -Enhance the customer experience
    -Reduce costs of product implementation
    -Reduce time
    -Give flexibility for the customers
    -Increase efficiencies
    -Reduce redundancies

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