Wednesday, October 8, 2014

3-D Printing and Shoping: A whole new experience

Imagination is the key to innovation.  With a creative mind, product possibilities are endless.  Especially now!  Companies like Direct Dimensions have taken product ideas into reality thanks to the 3-D printer.  Because 3-D printers are expensive and not yet a common household object, companies are allowing customers to customize products in new ways, 3-D print the object and then ship it to the customer. Direct Dimensions can create figurines of your loved ones all with a quick scan of your body or a simple picture upload to their website.  New York Toy Collectors is another company that is using body scanners to help produce replicates of the human body.  Their niche is to create replications of the human body to produce customized silicon sex toys.

 Another market has emerged from these scanner devices.  For instance Me-Ality is a body scanner located in numerous malls throughout the US.  This body scanner has the customer fill out a basic questionnaire, stand in the scanner for 20 seconds, and collect a three page analysis of the perfect clothes for that customer.  The scanner records over 200 data points on the customer’s body to gain a better sense of their shape and size.  The machine uses algorithms to compare the customers data to the clothes from the stores located within the mall.  Listed by categories of clothing, the machine will tell the customer, which stores to go to, which style, size, and color of clothing they should purchase.
Me-Ality has had positive experience from both consumers and store owners.  With the detailed shopping list, frustrated shoppers have a completely different experience.  The pressure of going to a store because of your age group verses going to a store because their pants fit you is not a problem anymore.  Many customers like this machine as they are now more willing to try different sizes and brand named stores than before.  For instance, when my mother used the machine, her number one pants match was from Abercrombie and Fitch.  The thought of getting jeans here was a big no-no due to their typical market age group.  However, since the machine found a match with that store, she tried on a pair of jeans and they were the perfect fit!   Without the machine telling her, she would have never walked into the store.  Store can also benefit from the market.  Stores have noticed a decrease of 84% of attire has been returned because of mis-sizing.  They are also able to understand their customer demographics (age, style choices, size)  and the products that are selling more.  There is a potential to use the data from this machine to help with forecasting algorithms.  Knowing which pair of jeans, dresses or shirts are more matched to the customers at that particular mall can give the store an insight on which products to have more in stock than others or how to alter the clothing to fit people better.    This type of free service to the consumer is changing the shopping industry.

How will the world of shopping change if we combine these two technologies, 3-D printers and Me-Alit?  If a consumer could walk into the machine, get a body scan, select the fabric patterns and watch a 3-D printer reproduce their creation would change the entire fashion industry. Everyone would essentially become a ‘designer’.  Although, I do not believe this would replace stores within the next 50 years, it will be possible to see this type of technology pop up in certain places.  A bigger question to ask is what material the clothes would be constructed from?  This is dependent on the type of material the printer would be able to use.  How soon will it be before we see customization taken to this next level?

How Technology Can Drive the Next Wave of Mass Customization (McKinsey Quarterly, Feb. 2014);

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