5 Ways That 3-D Printing is Going to Shake Up Retail
Make no mistake about it: 3-D printing will be a huge part of the retail industry's future. While Gartner is forecasting that mainstream adoption of consumer 3-D printing is still five years to 10 years away, the retail industry is already feeling the shift. Amazon.com has launched an online store for 3-D printed items, enabling customers to personalize products from wallets to dolls to jewelry. By some predictions, 10 percent of all consumer products will be made using 3-D processes by 2025, and Autodesk foresees half of all households in developed countries owning their own 3-D printer within a decade.
As the founder of a large online retailer and lifelong participant in the industry, I think this shift in producing power and the method by which products are made will transform retailers in five key ways:
1. Cheap and easy-to-print products will see reduction in sales. Perhaps most obvious, retailers selling products that are cheap and easy to print at home (i.e., those that are small, simplistic and made of plastic) will be most vulnerable to the reduction of their market. Retailers selling large and bulky items — and those selling items made of materials more difficult to 3-D print — have less to worry about, and will continue to take advantage of mass-production cost efficiencies to maintain relevance.
2. 3-D printing as a service. Retailers with brick-and-mortar locations will actually be able to take advantage of 3-D printing's rise in the near term by offering 3-D printing as a service. Consumers still waiting for more affordable and higher quality at-home 3-D printing options will be able to access the technology as provided at local stores. Even after common adoption of at-home 3-D printing, retailers will likely play a role in making larger and more powerful 3-D printing machines available (which consumers will use the same way a person today might use a print shop instead of their home printer for larger or special paper print jobs).