How will 3-D printing take hold at retail?

Discussion
Photo: Mattel
Jun 27, 2017
Tom Ryan

According to a survey from Interactions, 95 percent of shoppers are looking forward to purchasing products created through 3-D printing. And nearly 80 percent are inclined to spend more at a retailer that can help create their own products through 3-D printing.

Yet the technology, around since the late 1980s, continues to take a slow path to retail.

Among the recent developments:

  • In June 2016, Lowe’s launched Bespokes Designs, a six-month pilot that enabled customers at its Chelsea New York location to use 3-D scanning and printing technologies for home improvement projects and various other use cases. Said Lowe’s on its website, “Customers were able to digitally repair irreplaceable broken parts, customize cabinetry hardware with monograms, replicate precious heirlooms, and much more.”
  • Last October, DSW launched [email protected], a pop-up shop that produced custom 3-D printed shoes at key locations in New York City and San Francisco. Feetz’s SizeMe technology uses a mobile scanner to capture 5000 data points and 22 dimensions and produce a customized 3-D printed shoe in less than two weeks. The shoes were made of recyclable materials.
  • Last holiday season, Walmart Canada rolled out a program that enabled customers to customize and 3-D print their own Christmas ornaments for $10.
  • In February 2017, BeeHex, a start-up, raised $1 million in seed funding to launch Chef 3D, a food printer that enables users to knock out a pizza in whatever shape they want, including a heart. Said Jordan French, a co-founder to The Columbus Dispatch, “This is about overturning and disrupting the food-assembly business that still is relying on methods centuries and centuries old and simply haven’t caught.”
  • In September 2016, Mattel said it would delay release of its ThingMaker product until fall 2017 from Fall 2016. The device is designed to enable kids to print out their own toys. According to Engadget, the toymaker needed more time to “enhance the digital functionality” in order to deliver the “most engaging” experience for its customers.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see 3-D printing remaining largely a novelty attraction at retail over the next few years? Where do you see the technology having the most impact on selling floors?

Braintrust
"I believe 3-D printing will develop capabilities and gain users within B2B environments. Current B2C use cases are very niche."
"All you have to do is use a 3-D printer once and you will see right away that the technology is a long way away...."
"I’m holding out for the day when we can use a 3-D printer to print a 3-D printer…."

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14 Comments on "How will 3-D printing take hold at retail?"

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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I believe 3-D printing will remain a novelty attraction for the coming years. There’s no question that 3-D printing is brilliant technology and new applications for its use are discovered every day, however until there are more meaningful use cases for this in the retail context, its impact will be modest.

Nir Manor
BrainTrust

I do not see 3-D printing going mainstream in the coming years. To achieve that, a “killer app” must be introduced to drive consumers engagement. I believe it will develop capabilities and gain users within B2B environments. Current B2C use cases are very niche and will probably remain that way within next years.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

As a former manufacturing engineer, I absolutely believe that retail-oriented 3-D printing is indeed a novelty.

While there may be some viable small use cases, like customized ornaments, most of the “stuff” printed by 3-D systems amounts to trinkets. I’ll skip all the metallurgy and strength of materials engineering-type arguments and simply state that there is a cavernous gap between the 3-D hype and reality. There are industrial printers that have far more replacement part printing type of capabilities, but they are unlikely to be in-store.

Anyway, the process of scanning and printing is slow and usually requires mechanical knowledge to produce something of value. After one or two toyish printing experiences, the shininess of the experience will wear away, so I do not see shoppers continuing to invest their time. And just look at how much home sales of the machines have plummeted despite pundits stating every home would have a machine.

Lastly, let’s see the survey questions and understand the participants.

Sunny Kumar
BrainTrust

The important point in the phrase, “shoppers are looking forward to purchasing products created through 3-D printing” is the word “purchase.” I believe that until 3-D printing is as easy as buying something it will remain a bit of a novelty.

Consumers want custom and bespoke products but probably don’t want to develop a CAD file of a design, set up the printer and watch it being printed. The wider customer journey needs to be considered. That said, the potential to get this right seems very plausible.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

If there was a place where I could go to get a specific custom widget 3-D printed I wouldn’t even finish this post. The last time I talked to folks who could do this sort of thing for me it was going to cost thousands. And it’s not even complicated.

At some point, hopefully, this will be as common and inexpensive as where you go to get your keys made. Only by then you probably won’t be using keys.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Key making is a great analogy — it’s a specific application of a technology that most everybody needs (or at least needed) at some point. 3D printing is both inaccessible to most consumers combined with that fact that there are almost too many uses to be relevant. Once the “killer app” is developed, consumers will be quick to adopt.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

You’ve got it right Sterling. Hope that killer app comes sooner than later. I need it yesterday.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Thus far I’ve seen no compelling reason for using 3-D printing in retail that cannot be accomplished by traditional manufacturing/production processes. Yes it is a novelty for now. Once this technology takes hold in another industry and becomes more mainstream retailers should look to see how they can leverage it, as they have done with so many other programs like loyalty (which began in other industries originally).

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
All you have to do is use a 3-D printer once and you will see right away that the technology is a long way away from either an application on a store floor at scale, or an application in the consumer’s home capable of producing retail-quality products. My son has two 3-D printers and a table full of bad print jobs. The issues that hang him up are not related to the printer function itself. There is simply a lot of configuration and testing to get the right combination of speed of printing, heat of the extruder, scaffolding to support whatever you’re trying to build and internal structure and composition of your design. And once you think you have that figured out, you then have to compensate for weather — the temperature in the room, but also the humidity has a big impact. And for all I know, high pollen days or ozone alert days where particulate matter in the air is overly high. The point is, these things are still super finicky. And it’s way more art than science in getting something to print successfully. More commercial/industrial machines don’t have these problems at the same scale, but there’s a… Read more »
Sky Rota
Guest
25 days 22 hours ago
Yes, 3-D printing is 100 percent a novelty however it can make a kid like me great money. I have a 3-D printer and it runs 24-hours a day because I have a demand from kids that want unique 3-D printed spinners/rings/models/toys. Anyone who has a 3-D printer knows it takes no less than two hours to print a simple spinner. Something like DSW printing a 3-D shoe sounds good at first but then you see they say it take less than two weeks to get it. Who wants to wait two weeks to get a 3-D print? I printed a fancy shoe for my mom for Mother’s Day and it was a six hour print, that is why DSW is giving a two-week delivery. I only have one 3-D printer, if I were DSW I would have a ton of them to print the shoes if I saw customers wanting them. The most fantastic part of 3-D printing is watching the printing in person. I would have the printers positioned all over stores printing various sneakers/shoes/colors/styles just to get people in the stores watching them print. It’s a live, engaging experience. BTW, people still think that 3-D printers cost… Read more »
Shawn Harris
BrainTrust

I actually own a 3-D printer — my daughter loves her homemade fidget spinners. There are a few things that need to change to make it more associate-friendly and less of an engineering effort. Specifically; 1.) the management of filament, which is the plastic that is melted in to form, needs to be as easy as changing batteries; 2.) the preparation and print of an item needs to be as easy as printing an MS Word document and 3.) the print time needs to be halved.

Though individual prints are very inexpensive, given the cost of filament, until the aforementioned changes happen 3-D printing will remain a niche offering. I do believe that ultimately 3-D printing will have a tremendous impact on retail supply chain management, giving retailers the ability to avoid holding various parts and finished goods in inventory, the ability to further delay building finished goods and the ability to digitally deliver physical goods to consumers. As for the latter point, I am currently looking to do a couple of 3-D prints of a handbag for my wife and a pair of flexible sneakers. I will keep you posted.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Mattel’s ThingMaker reminds me a lot of those wildly coveted plastic dinosaur souvenirs that came out of an injection-molding machine at the 1964-65 Worlds Fair as the Sinclair Oil exhibit.

I’m holding out for the day when we can use a 3-D printer to print a 3-D printer….

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Eventually, yes, 3D printing will have a great impact in retail, but it will depend on the product type and retail segment. Who doesn’t see the Lego store adopting 3D printing to make any piece of your choice in the store to cover those situations where you’ve lost the one special piece you need to complete a build project. For apparel? It might be longer. While the tech is available today, it doesn’t feel like something that could handle the load in a busy store environment — just ask anyone who has a 3D printer at home.

Jett McCandless
Guest
Jett McCandless
25 days 17 hours ago

There are certain things that 3D printing is capable of doing very well, and it is at times fascinating to see what engineers come up with when provided with these tools. That said, it’s unlikely that 3D printing will accelerate much more in its current form. Until the technology is capable of reproducing retail-quality goods at a high level, it will remain mostly novelty.

It is interesting to consider the effect this might have on the supply chain, however. Without the need to ship mass quantities of certain goods, capacity will shift, as, of course, will manufacturing. Look for patents to become increasingly pricey, and retail piracy to become more prominent and worrisome.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I believe 3-D printing will develop capabilities and gain users within B2B environments. Current B2C use cases are very niche."
"All you have to do is use a 3-D printer once and you will see right away that the technology is a long way away...."
"I’m holding out for the day when we can use a 3-D printer to print a 3-D printer…."

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