Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


Crutchfield Launches Online Home Entertainment Configurator

Crutchfield, which describes itself as the U.S.’s first integrated marketer (catalog, call center, and Internet) of consumer electronics products, has launched Home System Planning Center which helps sShoppers assemble their ideal audio/video setup out of the literally thousands of different components on the market.

Crutchfield Corporation celebrated its 32nd anniversary in 2006. The company was the first vendor-authorized audio/video retailer on the Internet and is one of only three retailers to have won BizRate’s coveted “Circle of Excellence” award six times.

The Home System Planning Center is a suite of online tools that customers can use to integrate the audio/video components they already own with new ones they want to buy. Interactive Product Recommenders(TM) help users narrow down their choices for items such as TVs, receivers, DVD players, and home speaker systems, by answering a few simple questions. Users can also identify their existing components from a vast database of over 6,000 new and older products.

The user can compile a personalized list of components and save these possible combinations for later reference. Once they return and log in to their Crutchfield account, users can make notes on their system, revise their list of components, add items to their online cart for purchase, or contact a knowledgeable Crutchfield Sales Advisor for advice.

Crutchfield say that they collected extensive feedback from customers, as well as input from their Sales and Technical Advisors to design the Home System Planning Center.

“For decades, Crutchfield has been helping people build their car and home audio/video systems,” said Dave Weisman, senior director of business development for Crutchfield. “All that experience has taught us how our customers like to plan their systems –exploring multiple possibilities, mixing and matching components. Essentially, the Home System Planning center takes ‘wishlists’ to an exciting new level and effectively puts an end to ‘plug-and-pray’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ shopping.”

The Home System Planning Center links to many of Crutchfield’s other proprietary information centers, including the Home DIY Center and HDTV Headquarters. Another helpful shopping tool, Crutchfield’s TV Fit Finder, helps users quickly find a TV to match an existing cabinet or stand, or furniture to fit their TV.

The Home System Planning Center is free to visitors on Crutchfield.com. The tool is also available to Spanish-speaking shoppers on crutchfieldenespanol.com.

This configurator that stores massive amounts of data on existing products, and makes recommendations based on user inputs, is somewhat reminiscent of the model used by Zafu.com for the clothing sector. It appears that this type of market-wide configurator is becoming more established in various market sectors. The common attribute of these systems is that they scan the entire market for existing products that will fit the customer’s exact requirements, rather than taking the specification and creating the product.

They are also different to the configurators that take the customer’s specification and offer a ‘best fit’ from a single vendors product range. The ‘best fit’ in such cases may still be some distance from what the customer actually wants.

Which other market sectors are likely to see these configurators appear? Perhaps there are some already out there that this website has not yet seen. The automotive aftermarket seems like a very suitable sector for something like this, as does the computer hardware area, given that many IT hardware geeks like to mix and match hardware components. It will be interesting to watch where the next development of this idea appears.

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