Mass personalization or mass customization has been the holy grail for many industries for years, and now finally the technology is here to enable it. Processing power, communications infrastructure, and data management tools have been the hold-back to industries truly shifting from the Ford Model T approach to business ("People can have the Model T in any colour--so long as it's black") to one in which the promise of just-in-time becomes real.
The auto industry has long wanted to be able to build customers cars to spec. Currently, the process to order a custom car is painful, if even possible. Dealers pre-buy the most commonly ordered vehicles and will do their best to make sure you drive something off the lot, something that's not exactly what you want but good enough. This will change over the next years as the interwebs continues to allow the linking of customers directly into a real-time supply chain (a cause of the deemed Demand Economy).
The media industry has long wanted to deliver you tailored content and target advertising. Certain aspects of direct mail were sometimes customized based on geography and census data. More recently, direct marketers started using personalized URLs in printed material, however this sort of personalization is still nascent. Magazines have dabbled is different covers based on geo-targeting, but this has been more of a gimmick. Within cable television, the likes of Black Arrow, Visible World, and Canoe all suggest that mass television advertising will improve, some day delivering different experiences to each of us based on our demographics and view habits. Why should I ever see an ad (in any medium) for a product that I would never buy or be in a position influence a buyer? The interwebs is now starting to change all of this for all forms of media, from the web, to mobile, to magazines, to news, to television, etc, etc.
The topic of cable television has been beat to death, but needless to say that there is quite a strong consumer desire for a la carte programming and the infrastructure is here to allow it.
The textbook industry is no different. In fact, many of my professors supplemented standard textbooks with assembled course packets of their choosing. Then, these packets, once photocopied and stapled together, are now digital and web delivered. As content rights shift away from large publishing houses and individual authors gain access to improved syndication & monetization tools, it's not too hard to imagine a fully customizable curriculum, modifiable in real-time by educators on an as needed basis.
Thanks to the migration to on-demand/SaaS, the enterprise software industry can now provide custom interfaces for each end user, depending on their functional role, responsibilities, clearances, etc. A decade ago, it was cost prohibitive to deploy enterprise applications with hundreds of variations of permissions, but, today, administrators can tailor user interfaces to the exacting specifications & needs of their end user clients. This trends spreads across not just enterprise-wide applications, but also desktop specific ones and many IT departments now have the flexibility to support users on different platforms, operating systems, mobile devices, etc.
The apparel industry should provide me with clothing that fits me perfectly. Starting with basic customization like Zazzle, CafePress or Vistaprint to technologies that enable retailers to provide cuts & fits for every different body shape. As the percent of clothing sales on the web continues to grow, retailers will more & more provide shape & sizing varieties that inventory-based retail cannot support. Companies like StyleCaster and MyShape are already heading in that direction. And fun businesses like GoTryItOn or PlumWillow make shopping/dressing a social experience. The interwebs should eventually allow me to have perfectly tailored shirts & pants for (nearly) the same price/cost as off-the-shelf apparel in the same amount of time.
The quick-service restaurant business has seen an evolution from McDonald's type fixed menus to Chipotle's and Subway's make-your-own burrito and sandwich, respectively. As corporations can now get real-time feedback on consumers purchasing habits, expect to see more real-time changes/adaptations to changing trends.
Financial services has evolved to the point where you can nearly build your own banking/credit package. Many of my credit cards are personalised to the point where you can pick & choose different benefits & rewards combinations based on your particular needs. Additionally, many card companies now allow personalized printing of the card itself. Definitely more to come in the area of consumer finance, but it will be slow as this segment is bogged down by bureaucracy and regulation.
Online cereal / granola businesses like me&Goji or MixMyGranola are fast gaining traction as are protein/health bar companies like YouBar or ElementBars. These outfits use the web to allow for customized mixing & preparation of specific kinds of foods. There is no reason why this trend will not continue across other food categories as online shopping continues to grow.
Dell makes nearly customizable PCs and has for years. Although it's seemingly gotten more difficult once again to get an affordable machine built to spec. Maybe there's another wave of customization to come?
As this post has gotten ridiculously long, I'll end here. But, the point is, the interwebs allows for so much more than we currently see and soon enough we'll have anything & everything our way...