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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