3D Printing + Augmented Reality = A Retail Renaissance
In the future when these technologies have come together to redefine retail, you’ll walk into a store to buy a pair of shoes, except it won’t be a ‘store’ as you know it. It will be mostly blank with the exception of 3D printers along the walls behind glass windows. It will be as much of a factory as it is a store. We shall hereby refer to it as ‘store-factory-place’.
You’ll turn on your augmented reality glasses or your smartphone and you’ll see the branding and products of Reebok virtually overlayed onto the entire space. The problem is, you’re not a Reebok fan, you like Nike. So, you open a menu with a hand gesture and slide down to select ‘Nike’. Suddenly, the entire ‘storefront’ is filled with Nike products.
You point to a pair of blue running shoes that captures your eye. You look down and see how great they look on your feet… well except for that fact that you’d rather they be yellow with a black logo. So, you use a hand gesture to open the customizer menu and make it so. Now they’re perfect.
You nod at the ‘buy now’ button floating in the air and proceed to send the appropriate amount of bitcoin. Payment complete.
A new green button springs up saying ‘Materialize’. You nod at it and see a loading symbol. “Materializing. Your order will be ready in 3 minutes.” Three minutes passes and you’re directed to window 4 where you see the last few seconds of your shoes being printed. Five minutes later you’re walking out of store-factory-place in shoes you just customized and had manufactured. And yes, the new shoe smell is way more fresh.
(Actual 3D Printed Nike shoe)
Store-factory-place may sound crazy, but look at where the technology already is
When most people imagine the current state of 3D printing, they imagine the cool but useless small plastic trinkets that most of the printers on the market are limited to creating. However, there are already 3D printers that can print using multiple materials, including metals, allowing them to print circuit boards! The advancement of that technology will give rise to on-demand printing of electronics.
The fashion industry has also embraced the technology and many designers are beginning to experiment with 3D printed clothes and shoes. They see 3D printers not only as an innovative new medium with which they can be creative, but also as a practical tool to be able to produce more custom fitted attire cheaply and on demand. It won’t be long before those experiments become an industry-redefining trend.
Lowes is one of several major companies looking towards an augmented reality future for retail. They have an augmented reality app that allows you to use your smartphone to place virtual versions of their furniture and appliances “in” your house. As you look through the screen of your smartphone, you see the virtual refrigerador in its actual size wherever you place it. Their hope is to streamline home improvement by eliminating questions like “Will the refrigerator fit here?” and “Would this couch match our blinds?”. Just open the app, drop it in and find out.
The Real World Impact of Store-factory-places
This model of retail will have several major ramifications. It will dramatically reduce the supply chain industry. The only supplies most retail stores need will be the raw materials used to print. Shoes won’t have to be manufactured in China and transported half-way across the planet. No, that’s how a primitive and inefficient man-ape would do it. They could be designed in China, downloaded in Austin, Texas the same day at store-factory-place and produced on demand with no risk of unsold inventory.
The store-factory-place model also makes it far easier and cheaper for small businesses or individual creatives to have a retail space. They would have a fraction of the expense overhead without having to foot the entire bill for the space, manage a supply chain and stock inventory. Dozens of businesses could co-inhabit the same physical space while still being able to offer a unique branded experience and an entire store full of products. Costs would drop by orders of magnitude.
Store-factory-places would provide other perks like:
- Absolutely no theft loss
- Dramatically reduced carbon footprint due to limited shipping
- Recycling of the goods they have made
- Massive amounts of products
- Virtual representatives available 24/7
- Brands can create a fully immersive experience comparable to their own websites
- Incredible personalization. They know what you want before you walk in.
With the seeds of this future already beginning to bud, how long will it be before we see store-factory-places? It’s difficult to say, but one thing is for sure: it can’t be soon enough.