The post-industrial model
August 16, 2002 1:09 PM   Subscribe

The post-industrial model is not an assembly line, but an assembly swarm. So shopping means you're just the front end of the machine, eh?
posted by DenOfSizer (5 comments total)
I wonder if this is how the media packages the news...?
posted by ALvard at 1:48 PM on August 16, 2002

Either of you actually read the article? It's about customer empowerment. Certainly in terms of the news that means services like My Yahoo, or Moreover, or various Newstrackers ... or specialty weblogs. You don't get a pre-packaged newspaper, you pick and choose the stories you spend your time on. One way or another the web makes this a de facto result.

Auto manufacturers peaked with "platform" standardization in the 1970s, made an apotheosis of it in the 1980s even as they moved back away from fifteen barely-distinguishable models of the same K-car. Today a single platform can accomodate half a manufacturer's fleet, vehicles as diverse as a luxury sedan, a compact city car, and a light sport utility. Some manufacturers are experimenting with even more flexibility and finding that new production techniques can make 1000-vehicle runs profitable, something that was only possible for outlandishly priced luxury cars a generation ago. With computerized order taking, it's not only possible to get the red wagon with the pine trim and the FM radio, you can get the engine with the chip programmed for more torque, the A/C with butternut aromatherpay, and heck -- you could upload a photo and get the family portrait woven into the upholstery.

These aren't items that will add that much value, but they do wonders for customer loyalty and identification. There are boat manufacturers and quasi-luxury carmakers who are already doing stuff near this level.
posted by dhartung at 2:17 PM on August 16, 2002

I don't understand why Sterling used the labor analogy for mass customization models like Amazon and Dell. The traditional "labor" is still there and it isn't the customer that is doing any heavy lifting. Instead the customer gets to decide what they want, not a one size fits all solution. I don't find the opportunity to make a choice laborious.

Dell is like Jack in the Box : They don't build it until you order it. If you want a larger hard drive to store more porn? you got it. Blue palmrests? sure. The trade off is you can't get that system exactly how you want it the same day like you can with the one-size-fits-all package sold in the store.

Amazon is great because it does follow a customer's clickstream through the site and tries to customize the suggestions to the customer's past behavior and popular items for sale. Sometime it misses the mark, sometimes it works. Most brick and mortar bookstores offer suggestions of the staff, show the NYT best sellers and sometimes have knowledgeable staff to help decide on a book.

Both Amazon and Dell have had to come up with innovative customer experiences to overcome the fact that the product isn't instantly available.
posted by birdherder at 5:31 PM on August 16, 2002

Interesting subject, but YEESSH that article was horribly written.

What it's missing is that people want varying levels of selection. i can select most parts i want in my machine, but i don't select the motherboard. Of course, my dad can't even figure out what the heck is the difference between system memory and a hard drive, so he SHOULD be much more limited in the range of his selection. Having the ability to be nitpicky is great, but we still must be able to know how to use it.

As for personalized shopping (amazon) i think you just have to realize that if you want to get more personalized items out you have to submit more personal information in.

In the end i'll buy an item off the Internet when i know exactly WHAT i want to get, and therefore i'll get a good price. But if i have no idea what i need i still go to a store with shelves and human salespersons.
posted by NGnerd at 12:57 PM on August 17, 2002

Okay, I agree that this is not the most elegantly-constructed essay in the world. But I still maintain that it's more interesting than you guys give it credit for. This article is not about customer empowerment. It's not talking about e-commerce or wireless delivery. It's not just about the skillful deployment of a "kit of parts," posing as the all the "freedom of choice" that capitalism promises. The reason I put this article up is because I sheds a little more light onto the dark side of the gleaming, infitily customizable Product. Some of those dark facets include:
1. Entire economic shift from product-based industry to service-economy.
2. The denial that well-designed objects may be, in fact, better than overly-customized ones.
3. (Unmentioned in the article) The incredible environmental costs of mass customization.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:06 PM on August 19, 2002

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