Today the range of products created with 3D printing technology is limitless. The consumer's shopping experience will no doubt change as this technology becomes a common sight online and in stores.
How will 3D Printing Change the Shopping Experience?
3D printing technology in retail will result in a limitless range of unique items appearing on the streets. 3D printing technology could have the opposite effect and giant manufacturers could mass-produce items using 3D printing technology. Wal-Mart is considering using 3D printing to produce supplies. This will cut supply chain costs and hopefully bring prices down for customers.
The 3D printing process will speed up production time. Even though design and delivery will still be necessary the actual production time will be cut down to a matter of minutes. 3D printing makes production on demand from pre-existing templates possible.
When shopping, we generally try things on for size, now we can try on a 3D printed sample of the item before committing to custom-made products or expensive originals.
3D Printer influence on the online shopping experience
Amazon recently launched their 3D Printing Store. Using a product personalization widget customer can choose his or her own materials, dimensions and style. Sites like Shapeways and Sculpteo base their entire businesses on 3D printing. Customers can create their own personal accessories, clothing, toys and other objects. Nordstrom and Wal-Mart have also taken steps in exploring the possibilities of 3D printed products. The vision is that in the future the customer would have a digital file with a 3D model of their body and could virtually "try things on" and choose items before ordering them online. Sols, for example, is a company where clients use an iPad app to scan their feet and send the scan into the company for customized inner-soles. Some online jewelry stores lets you design and print the 3D plastic jewelry models, so that you can try it on before buying.
In-store 3D printer shopping experience
Imagine walking into a store choosing a prototype, pressing a button to make design changes and then pressing another button to produce the item with a 3D printer. Phonak is a hearing-aid manufacturer, which already uses 3D printing technology to produce most of its products. In the Normal store in NYC customers come in, get fitted for earbuds and then watch them being 3D printed before their eyes.
3D Printing Stores are rapidly popping up across the globe. As few people can afford their own 3D printer at home they can go to one of these 3D Printing Stores to use their facilities. Professional designers and computer experts are on hand to help inventors, artists, designers, engineers, architects and hobbyists who want to see their concept in 3D.
Main street stores using 3D printing will no doubt be a part of the retail world in the future and online retail is already leading the way. With 3D printed products our shopping experience may be less personal but faster, cheaper and more accurate.