You have to check this out. I am sad to say I'm late in discovering Threadless (thanks to Doris and Moynihan for egging me on), but it's amazing. As everyone knows, I pretty much only wear T shirts. But I also get bored easily (in case you didn't know that). Which means I'm constantly on the hunt for cool new Ts. If my accountant is reading this, don't worry, they only cost like $15 each.
Threadless is an online T shirt retailer specializing in designs from ordinary folks (not "brands"). Which would be reason enough for me to really love it (you'll all recall my recent Etsy binge). But it's also a site where anyone can submit a design for a T-shirt and have it voted on by anyone online. If they choose your design for a shirt, they pay you $12,500 (and you get famous). It's also a place where you can determine what is later sold (by rating the submitted designs). You can even ask them to reprint designs that are sold out.
This is listening to customers in a whole new way, I think. And giving them value, some of which is brand new to the marketplace (a T shirt is no longer just a shirt, it's a way to participate with a brand, a souvenir of an engaging process where you participated in the product's design - brilliant).
I see big changes for mass market retail coming. Sure it could be in 10 years, but I think once people get a taste of this new approach to acquiring stuff (influencing what's made before you buy it), it's pretty hard to go back to pre-packaged at WalMart.
Think of the implications for a retailer like Zara that already has pretty quick inventory turns. They could be cranking out a new set of items every day (I think I just got a tingle).
I wish the site were more viral-enabled; e.g., had a quick link to allow me to email a design that's perfect for my friend DeMane to her new boyfriend Eduardo so he can get it for her as a gift. They offer a way to embed items in social media (which I've done here), which I really enjoy using.
Anyway, it's a cool site with decent UI and a compelling concept. Check it out.