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Product Customization: MDM and the Retail Journey of Personalized Kicks

Barbara Thau

By Barbara Thau

On June 14, 2018

Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.”

To adapt the philosopher’s prescient words to retail, driving sales in a multi-touch shopping landscape means the medium must define the message.

Therein lies the crux of Master Data Management (MDM).

MDM establishes a common data language for product information that’s shared throughout the many moving parts of a retail ecosystem, culling and disseminating data from shopper chatter, suppliers, stores and digital commerce platforms to merchandising and marketing functions.

By serving as a single repository of accurate and timely merchandise information, MDM makes product data meaningful and actionable for retailers to optimize performance and drive sales.

So, if consumers are buzzing about a 3D-contoured night mask on Twitter, for example, merchandisers can use the information to move the product from a shelf at the back of a store to its own display table by the entrance, with shoppers’ laudatory Tweets printed on signage.

Turning Data Cacophony into Harmony

Today, $2.3 trillion in e-commerce sales flows through the world’s product pipeline, complicating retail supply chains like never before.

In turn, the retail war has shifted to the information-supply-chain battleground, where delivering the right product content to the right consumer at the right time is more critical than ever.

MDM is designed to turn a cacophony of product-data conversations into harmony. Like musicians playing off each other in an orchestra, MDM acts as the constant, conducting a feedback loop of trusted product content throughout the retail ecosystem.

The Path to Personalization

The endless choice afforded by online shopping has reset consumer expectations in profound ways.

It’s sparked a shopper craving for one-of-a-kind products — be it a custom-mixed coffee roast or a personalized pair of kicks.

MDM is a personalization tool, a means to govern product data to capture a 360-degree view of the conversational commerce surrounding a product via a rich set of touch points, from customer reviews and Google keyword searches to mentions on Instagram or Snapchat.

Tackling personalization has become a retail imperative, particularly as younger generations eschew one-size-fits-all merchandise.

Generation Z, born after the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, wants to “customize their own individual experiences,” according to a global study by The National Retail Federation and IBM.

And 48% of Gen Z consumers surveyed said they’d like shopping technology tools that enable them to customize products themselves, and 42% would like the ability to design unique products on site.

The MDM Journey of a Customized Sneaker

According to digital think tank Gartner L2, 18% of U.S. activewear brands now offer product customization.

Let’s consider how MDM could generate sales of custom-created products for Shoobie, a fictionalized sneaker brand.

The sneakers sell at department stores and Shoobie specialty shops, targeting: 17 to 30-year-old, fashion-forward, socially-conscious, culture vultures.

Shoobie started by taking the conversational pulse surrounding its products to gather input for the launch of MyShoobie, a new line of customized sneakers.

Based on sales and customer-reviews online, MyShoobie launched with personalization options in nylon and suede, its best-selling materials, and in three of its most popular colors: purple, black, and crème.

Shoobie then launched a MyShoobie customization station in its branded stores and a personalization tool on, with an opportunity to pick from seven design variations of its signature smiley face logo.

Via MDM, a conversational-content story on MyShoobie began to emerge.

Shopper entries from Shoobie’s in-store customization kiosks tracked that over a two-week period, consumers searched for “leather” more than any other material to build their personalized sneaker, although only nylon and suede options were offered.

So, by feeding kiosk-generated data back to the product team, the retailer added a leather MyShoobie option, which became the lion’s share of sales, while nixing suede, a material greeted with radio silence.

Other tiers of customization followed. The words “multicultural Shoobie” started to pop up in fans’ Instagram stories, so the retailer added smileys in a range of skin tones to its personalization options.

Mentions of its purple sneakers turned up on fashion blogs, as celebrity Millennials were snapped wearing them at restaurants, on walks, and out shopping.

The brand then fed those findings to Shoobie’s marketing team, who then paired the celeb images with photos uploaded by consumers of their #MyShoobieCreation. The photos were populated in a rotating image gallery that was featured online and on a digital screen in-store.

The image gallery of celebrities and consumers gave shoppers customization ideas while driving traffic to MyShoobie’s in-store shop and its website.

Shoobie then saw an opportunity to add limited-edition personalization to the mix during the NCAA Division’s 1 Men’s Basketball tournament.

That’s when Shoobie product mentions on Facebook overlapped with chatter on Sister Jean Rose, the 98-year old nun, and chaplain of Loyola’s team, who became a fan favorite.

To capitalize on the moment, MyShoobie added a “Sister Jean is My Home Girl” icon to its customization options for a limited-time only, driving an urgency to buy. Other limited-edition features followed, culled from the product chatter surrounding trending events, from sports games and concerts to cultural exhibits.

MDM-generated data enabled Shoobie to deliver consistent merchandising and marketing across all customer touch points, and adjust its game plan to market signals, while surprising and delighting shoppers.

When done right, MDM can catalyze personalized, dynamic and contextually relevant shopping experiences, nurturing customer loyalty while uncorking new revenue streams.