What are Product Customizers?
Product customizers are software applications which let you add customization capability to the products sold on eCommerce websites.
They can also be called Custom Product Builders, Custom Product Options, Custom Product Designers and Product Configurators.
All of the hundreds of different apps in the market vary considerably in terms of their technical functionality.
Often an app's limitations will only reveal themselves when you are halfway through using it. It pays to do your research and choose wisely.
The simplest apps may just add additional drop-down product option text fields to the product page. Others will go much further, allowing for other images or text to layer over a base background product image. Other's will support dynamic visual configuration, and even 3D!
All product customizers aim to prevent website admins from having to rely on custom coding. Custom code changes to websites often opens a whole can of worms and also require constant maintenance upkeep, making a small monthly app usage fee seem very good value.
Customization vs Personalization
The difference between product personalizers and product customizers is subtle, but important to understand
Product customizers will give the user the ability to choose from a set of pre-determined selections.
Product Personalizers will instead take this further and provide an ability to create something unique, tailored to that individual. The most common example would be putting your name on a t-shirt. For a longer explanation read this article.
Four Types of Product Customizers
These are the four categories of third-party apps you can use on Shopify to add product customization capabilty.
- Product Options Apps
- Modified Product Options Apps
- 2D visual customizers
- 3D visual customizers
Let’s have a quick look at each one together with some real examples.
1 – Product Options Apps
Most people will start their journey into customization by adding a sequence of form selections or ‘product variations’ to a base product. If this isn't available out of the box, Custom Product Options apps will be used.
These apps will help with the addition of options to the base product via the insertion of extra fields on the product page.
The customer can then make selections via these fields before a modified base product is finally added to the cart.
The downside with these apps is they can quickly make the product page visually messy and cumbersome. This distracts the user and can reduce conversions. Most will not support conditional logic either (i.e. if this, then that).
Not only will the page look unappealing and confusing but the customer can’t visualize the final product prior to checkout. There will be an inherent risk perception because of this.
These apps also rarely integrate downstream into inventory, design, ordering, or fulfillment processes. So a lot of manual, back and forth communication between all the parties is required which absorbs business resources, ultimately making this an unprofitable endeavor.
2 – Modified Product Options Apps
We’ve noticed a lot of website owners experiment with various product options apps before they realize it doesn’t do something critical to their process. When this happens, they will consider the more advanced customizer apps or be tempted to go deep down the rabbit hole of custom-coded website development.
Modifying the theme and template code of the website’s content management system (CMS) is often costly, messy, time-consuming and a nightmare for maintenance – requiring constant updates.
Here’s an example of a merchant who has chosen the custom route which involved taking pictures of every single product selection combination (hundreds). When the drop-down menus are used, there is some conditional logic code that changes the product image to the correct one from the thumbnail list. This is not dynamic product visualization and means you need to shoot, edit and upload a lot of pictures. Also, the image area extends a very far way down the page, making the page layout look cluttered.
Both Product Options apps and Modified Product Options apps are not true customizations. They are not dynamic and more like a detailed product variant. However, they do the job for a lot of smaller eCommerce merchants..
3 – 2D Product Customizers
Dynamic customization in 2D is one of the most popular solutions. 2D product customizers allow you to layer visuals on top of a default background product image in Shopify. For example, if the customer enters their name into a text field, this text will be shown via an overlay function on top of the product pictured in the background.
These 2D customization apps can work well for very simple or flat products where 3D visualization is less essential. T-shirts, posters, books, monogramming of wallets, etc.
They have major drawbacks if the product shape is complex, customers are less unfamiliar with the product category, or it’s high cost or tactile. The final image can look distorted and unappealing which gives the wrong vibe to the customer.
The text will sit flat and not wrap around the sides of curved surfaces. The blending of the two layers will look unnatural and a ‘pasted’ feel.
4 – 3D Product Customizers
The most advanced customization apps are 3D product customizers. They allow you to configure the product in a live 3D environment and see exactly what the product will look before it’s purchased. This significantly reduces any perceptions of purchase risk, especially if the 3D model is done well.
This software is sometimes referred to as “3D product configurators” or “visual configuration software”. Higher quality apps will even allow you to add a scene or context around the background of the 3D product model. Some also allow for parts of the customization process to trigger animations so the product comes to life as you step through the sequence. This provides a much richer brand experience and exudes a premium-quality feel. You can simulate what may occur in a real-life retail situation easily.
In the past, complex products with a high degree of customization have been restricted to physical retail locations (think of a tailor or cobbler, or heavy machinery). With advanced 3D configuration technology stores can move many of these products online and take advantage of the eCommerce market Bricks and mortar store owners can almost virtualize their entire retail experience.
3D customization apps are not all created equally. The way the different layers of customization blend into the base 3D model varies considerably as do the load times, lag, and quality of the model.
Featured in this image is an example of our 3D product customizer app in use on the Hand Dyed Shoe Company’s Shopify website.
Don’t Forget Downstream
One of the biggest barriers to the adoption of customized products is the ordering, manufacturing, and fulfillment side.
This process varies considerably from one merchant to the next. Each has its own processes, technology, and service providers. So there needs to be a lot of flexibility in the back-end of the customization software you choose, especially if you want to automate and scale the sales process.
Some retailers will modify the physical product themselves locally. Others will send a standardized product to another firm that makes the modifications. Others will outsource the entire manufacturing of the personalized product completely.
Most fulfillment operations are not set-up for procedures that fall outside standard product fulfillment. Customization can quickly create a lot of complexity in this process. So we’ve ensured our app can integrate seamlessly into downstream production and product fulfillment processes. This might involve actions such as sending data to 3D printers, 2D printers, labeling machines, integration into ERP/WMS systems, and more.
These integrations allow for true, hands-off mass personalization at scale. In fact, we have already partnered with 3PL fulfillment centers to save you the trouble.
Request a live demo of the Spiff 3D Customizer App in action
It’s best to contact one of our staff and ask all the questions you have. James, Shadi, and the rest of the team can show you live examples that are not shown publicly.
If you are a bit shy, visit our Shopify demo site to view a modest range of products with some standard customization features activated.