Aishwarya Ramesh

'Custom-made' FMCG products?

FMCG startups that specialise in offering 'customised' products are the new hipster trend.

Gone are the days when consumers used whatever diluted shampoo was kept in the family bathroom. Now, not only do FMCG products cater to different hair and skin requirements, but some start-ups are taking it a notch higher. In addition to promising a cruelty-free, natural product - these start-ups are offering 'custom-made' products tailored to suit individual customer needs. With the growing popularity of social media, these brands have the opportunity to target and reach out to a relatively niche audience that would be willing to splurge on a personalised experience.

All these start-up websites have one thing in common - they require a user to fill out a detailed questionnaire in order to be able to provide them with 'customised' products to suit their needs.

1. Freewill - specialises in providing customised shampoos, conditioners, and hair oils.

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2. Bare Anatomy - this brand also provides specialised shampoos to users.

3. Skinkraft - This brand specialises in offering customised skincare solutions for different skincare concerns.

4. Freshistry - This website specialises in giving customised skincare with Ayurvedic ingredients.

5. Emcee Beauty - This cosmetics brand allows users to customise the colour tone of the cosmetics they're purchasing - in addition to allowing them to select the ingredients and the finish of the product.

Rutu Mody-Kamdar, a branding and consumer behaviour specialist feels that the concept of customised FMCG products is a bit gimmicky. Mody-Kamdar is founder and managing director, Jigsaw Brand Consultants, a branding consultancy firm. She says that most of these services are based on an algorithm and a limited set of permutations and combinations as far as different products and their ingredients are concerned.

Rutu-Mody Kamdar
Rutu-Mody Kamdar

"It's personalisation experience that attempts to be similar to the personalisation experience on Netflix or Spotify. The main difference is that the digital companies have easy access to data - these start-ups may not." she explains.

She points out that even if the companies find a way to collect data, it remains to be seen whether they will use it intelligently. "Right now, with most of these companies, there doesn't seem to be any data or analytics that go into the product recommendations. It's more about offering the right product to suit a certain profile," she opines.

Kamdar mentions that the audience that buys these products might be a small niche one, since the middle class consumer might be unwilling to try these products. "There's a certain psychographic targeting that goes into the ads that are shown to a particular audience on the digital medium. A member of this TG might be interested in purchasing artisanal, handcrafted goods. In terms of trial, a customer might sign up for this product to try it out once, but it remains to be seen how many of these audiences are converted into returning customers," she says.

Amit Wadhwa, president, Dentsu Impact, believes that when it comes to FMCG, 100 per cent custom-made solutions are not possible and do not make business sense. "Still, the customisation is taken care of to a large extent when it comes to the category. Right from some ingredients that don’t suit you or you are allergic to, including the ones that work for you and then finally having your name on the bottle of shampoo, I think it does have a feeling of ‘especially created for me’, which to me is a great idea," he says.

He opines that these start-ups are playing a niche game and are unlikely to have huge numbers - at least, not in the near future. He emphasises that data collection plays a key role in product development. "Information on specific things people want and in some cases that they don’t, works quite well here. This will be an on-going thing where the products become that much more interesting with each customer's choice. Data would also help pricing, where you see how much are people willing to pay for what ingredients or just for that name on the bottle. This certainly is taking personalisation to a new level, especially when it comes to FMCG as that's a sector that hasn’t seen personalisation much," says Wadhwa.

Amit Wadhwa
Amit Wadhwa

He adds that a certain segment of consumers could be convinced to pay extra for a personalised, perfect product; but that it would only tempt a certain niche segment of consumers - also because of financial issues. "Marketing here has to create awareness as it is a novel idea and it is about informing people about a completely new concept. It needs to be a lot more explanatory than the usual brand advertising," he signs off.

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