Crowdsourcing your inventory: Outsource product and empower customers

Contributor Rohit Gupta explains how crowdsourcing inventory helps companies cut costs associated with product design while keeping customers engaged.

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As retail increasingly moves online and into mobile experiences, consumers are presented with ever-increasing purchasing choices, including fully customizable products that can be ordered on a whim.

Today’s consumers have become accustomed to increasingly accurate recommendations as they shop, and tomorrow’s consumers will expect increasing levels of personalization and customization for the products they buy. And not just because people want to buy things unique and specific them, but because the underlying personalized digital experiences will become increasingly commoditized.

To get ahead of this trend, attract new customers and keep current customers engaged, marketers can incorporate a radical new approach that crowdsources product designs and enables customers the opportunity to create and invent. It also guarantees a product will sell and dramatically reduces the risks and costs associated with internal product design.

Crowdsourcing initiatives

According to the Journal of Marketing Research, companies are increasingly experimenting with crowdsourcing initiatives in which they invite their user communities to generate new product ideas.

The findings from two randomized field experiments reveal that labeling crowdsourced new products as such — that is, marketing the product as “customer-ideated” at the point of purchase versus not mentioning the specific source of design — increased the product’s actual market performance by up to 20 percent. Here is the experiment abstract (The report is behind a paywall):


Consider the success of crowdfunding websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, which together have raised nearly $5 billion from millions of consumers over the past decade to fund everything from consumer products like futuristic headphones, drones and vacuums to an emoji-themed Broadway musical and everything in between.


These projects are created by everyday people around the world who dreamed of something, were able to find others who believed in their projects and were willing to pitch in to bring them into existence. Without “backers” who donate, projects wouldn’t get off the ground.

Myriad consumer brands have democratized product creation and have familiarized consumers with the idea that they can be a part of the product-creation process

  • BetaBrand, an online crowdfunded clothing company that releases new products non-stop, designed by an enthusiastic community from all around the world.
  • NikeiD, the popular shoe company, enables consumers to fully customize shoes with text, colors and fabrics.
  • Bespoke clothing ordered through the web has become a phenomenon in its own right, spawning dozens of startups vying for a specific segment of the custom clothing market. Some, like Frilly and Mon Purse, keep costs low by maintaining a web-only presence. Others, like Trumaker and Knot Standard, augment their ecommerce with brick-and-mortar showrooms.

This shift is a radical disruption for retailers and consumer goods manufacturers, particularly given the complexities of establishing supply chains, procurement processes and sale strategies. Some retailers, like Zara, have succeeded in manufacturing a product and getting it on store shelves within eight weeks, enabling them to stay ahead of fashion trends, where other apparel retailers plan months or quarters out and may miss out on the latest trends.

For retailers that are agile and able to simplify their supply chain, here’s how marketers can get involved:

  • A/B test company-created designs via email or social media — or go big and create product creation contests and a dedicated area of the website where customers participate in the creation process.
  • Ensure a clear submission and/or voting process and a “tipping point” at which the product has achieved the appropriate appeal and sales will cover the cost to manufacture; this ensures that every product is a success from the get-go.
  • Consider a presale strategy to ensure that customers are committed to buying before the product goes into production, thus eliminating the risk of failure.
  • Optimize for virality by incentivizing consumers to share their creations with friends, thus introducing the brand to new customers without any associated cost.

The world of retail is rapidly changing: Customers have diverse, shifting tastes, and brands that continue to guess what customers need (or want) will fall by the wayside in favor of brands that empower customers to take ownership of the product creation process.

Modern retailers seeking to move into customized products must simplify their supply chains and become more agile with the product creation process; those that succeed in crowdsourcing their inventory are not only more likely to achieve financial success and positive brand perception, but they can also cut the costs associated with product design and development.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Rohit Gupta
Rohit Gupta leads the North America consumer and media digital strategy practice within Wipro Digital. Prior to Wipro Digital, he has held various leadership positions within the retail industry driving digital transformations through customer centric solutions for eCommerce and in-store experiences. He holds an MBA from Cornell and mentors various start-ups within the Bay Area.

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