As technology has developed over the last several years it has made a large impact on the retail industry. These days we can often complete transactions without even opening up our wallets with assistants who operate iPads, and that’s only if we decide to shop on the high-street rather than just going online. But over the next decade we’re likely to see even more changes still and one of the biggest factors in effecting this change is likely to be 3D printing – a phenomenon that is already taking the world by storm and that is rapidly gaining momentum.
What is 3D Printing?
In case you have been living under a rock, 3D printing means printing for 3D models. In other words, you can create a 3D model with a piece of CAD software such as blender, save the file, and then have it printed out by a printer in a range of materials from plastic to steel to china. The printing itself is normally done by a laser which cuts the shape you design out of a block of material, though sometimes it will be done through an additive process instead. Check out 3d printing solutions.
What this essentially means is that you can create any product you can dream of, as long as it is made from a single part and is within certain dimensions. Already there is a thriving community online for 3D printing as people share their files and create all kinds of wonders.
How It Will Affect Stores?
Now you may be thinking that this is just one more thing that is going to steal consumers away from the high-street, but actually 3D printing also has a lot of advantages for retailers too. You just have to see the opportunities that are there…
The first opportunity is of course to offer printing services much as many companies once offered to do photocopies for a few cents. Some shops already offer 3D printing services for a fee, allowing customers to come in with their file on a laptop or USB stick and then see their creation come to life. You can also sell the raw materials to make a little extra on the side, and right now it’s a relatively unique offering that will help you to stand out for tech-savvy customers.
Of course 3D printing is a lot cheaper than buying wholesale goods once you have invested in a printer so this creates more opportunities for businesses. Instead of having to order in more stock at the end of the day, you could simply ‘print it off’ overnight and have the replacements waiting for you the next morning. There would be no late deliveries, no shipping costs and no limit on the orders you could take. Your overheads would be considerably lower and your profits much higher!
But as well as offering your own products, you could also allow customers to order other items that they don’t see in your store. Essentially you could offer your shoppers an infinite supply of 3D-printable items catering to every taste.
Another benefit of having a 3D printer though is the fact that you can manipulate the design on the fly. This means that you could also ‘do requests’ so that a customer could ask to have the same cup holder design in another colour for instance, or with their name brandished across the front.
Furthermore, by seeing what your customers buy you could easily adapt your products to fit the needs and demands of your market. This is the same business model that app developers use – they release an app that isn’t 100% ‘complete’ and then respond to comments from users/use split testing in order to gradually tailor it to be the app that everyone wants. 3D printing offers the first opportunity for retail businesses to do the same, and could potentially help you to greatly increase your sales.
And if you have something that isn’t selling? Then you can simply melt it down back into the raw materials to be 3D printed as something that is selling. No more wasted materials or cash.
Smart businesses are businesses that look into 3D printing…
This post has been authored by Mark Thompson. Mark is an intern at Aireus, leading providers of iPad POS software. Mark takes keen interest in theatre and enjoys watching plays on the weekends.