by Kevin Coupe

Interesting piece in the New York Times this morning about how, “in our made-to-order consumer society, simple is out. And in a volatile sales universe for new cars, brands like Porsche, Ford, Mini and Volkswagen are experimenting with marketing methods to make their models more attractive to buyers — and better for their bottom lines.

“In a recent survey of a thousand adults commissioned by Mini, nearly two out of three people said they considered personalization important in deciding on a new vehicle.”

The story goes on: “With electric and autonomous vehicles on the horizon, nearly all brands worry that the car will emerge as a commodity, an appliance. So the concept is to allow customers — custom is the first part of that word — to build an automobile to their exact specifications, making it almost as easy as (and in some cases easier than) ordering an Ethan Allen couch or a pair of Nike by You sneakers.”

One car salesman puts it this way: “The motor won’t sell it — it’ll be the experience and the ability to customize. People who are about 35 to 55 years old have their own ideas of what a car should look like. The company that makes their dream car a reality is the company that’s going to get their money.”

I think this goes beyond cars. Retailers of all kinds have to think in different ways about providing customizable and differentiated experiences to shoppers … and especially best customers who account for a large percentage of their sales and profits. These days, it seems to me, there is no excuse for not knowing who these people are, what they want, and working hard to satisfy those needs and desires so they won’t shop anyplace else.

Retailers need to act as if every one of their customers is in play.

Because every one of their customers is in play.

It also was interesting to see this story because I’ve been sort of vaguely thinking about my next car … it isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but I’ve been thinking about the possibilities.

There are certain things I know. It’ll be a ragtop. And it’ll have a manual transmission. Might be another Mustang (I love the dark gray one I own now). I suppose it could be another Miata (for the 20 years before I owned the Mustang I had two different Miatas, and I loved those cars). Also could be something else.

But one thing I have been thinking about is that I would like my next car to be in British Racing Green … and, having done a little checking, I’ve found that neither the Mustang nor the Miata is made in that color. It’s not available.

Now, I haven’t done a lot of exhaustive research, so it is entirely possible that I’ll find another convertible with a manual transmission that comes in that color. But in checking out Mustangs and Miatas, I found myself wondering why there aren’t a greater number of customizing options, especially paint colors, available in 2019.

To be sure, Mini does seem to be an exception, offering a wide range of customizable versions and encouraging people to design their own as part of its value proposition. I know this in part because my driveway looks like two thirds of The Italian Job, with both my daughter and wife driving Minis.

It does seem like a natural next step for car companies, which need to recognize that customers want what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.

For me, that’s a ragtop. Manual transmission. British Racing Green.

That’ll be an Eye-Opener.