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7/28/2014
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Amazon Launches 3D Printed Products Store

Amazon, the world's largest online commerce store, offers mass customization.

Amazon Fire: 6 Key Points
Amazon Fire: 6 Key Points
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Amazon on Monday launched a 3D Printed Products store, a development that the company characterizes as a shift toward a more fluid concept of inventory.

Petra Schindler-Carter, director for Amazon Marketplace Sales, suggested that online retailing can adapt better to customer desires by working with design and manufacturing companies to make inventory more dynamic and personalized.

"The 3D Printed Products store allows us to help sellers, designers, and manufacturers reach millions of customers while providing a fun and creative customer experience to personalize a potentially infinite number of products at great prices across many product categories," said Schindler-Carter in a statement.

Sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, 3D printing describes various machine-driven processes by which physical objects can be created from various base materials -- typically plastic or metal -- using a digital file. 3D printing presently represents the opposite of high-volume, low-cost mass production. It provides low-volume, higher cost customizable production.

Amazon says its 3D Printed Products store offers "modestly priced customizable items," such as cufflinks, bobble head figurines, and wine glass holders for less than $40, as well as customizable pendants, earrings, and other accessories in the $100 range.

The 3D printing market reached $3.07 billion last year, according to a May report issued by Wohlers Associates. The industry saw a compound annual growth rate of 34.9%, the highest in 17 years. Worldwide revenue growth has averaged 27% in the past 26 years, according to the report.

[Does Amazon need a new hit? Read Amazon's Bruising Week.]

It's doubtful, however, that Amazon's foray into the field will do much to reverse its recent losses. The company posted a $126 million loss for its 2014 second quarter.

Amazon isn't providing 3D printing services itself. It is offering a marketplace for 3D printing vendors to sell their wares, with less customization than could be had by dealing with these vendors directly. Specifically, customers can't upload their own 3D files to be printed. They're limited to customizing a limited set of products within a range of pre-programmed options.

For example, the "'Create Your Own' 3D Printed Slim Wallet" offered by Mixee Labs includes five personalization choices: one of six colors; 20 characters of text, on top and on bottom; striped, solid, or no background pattern; and one of four decal designs.

This is something short of the freedom afforded those who create their own 3D design files and select the most suitable materials and manufacturing process. It's more like what Cafepress.com or Zazzle.com offer -- design customization -- but with a broader inventory of base products.

However, Amazon's menu-driven customization should prove easier and more appealing to consumers than the DIY experience. It may also accelerate popular adoption of 3D printing. Certainly, it helps insulate Amazon from the potential problems of user-generated goods that offend or may violate the law, such as 3D printed guns.

Amazon warns that while customized products can be returned if they fail to meet expectations, return policies on 3D printed goods are set by Amazon's vendors and may not include subjective criteria like buyer's remorse.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 9:19:39 AM
Re: Amazon Launches 3D Printed Products Store
My first reaction on reading the headline (and I posted this on the InformationWeek Facebook page) was 'wow, I had no idea this was happening!' - 3d printing is still so new and sci-fi to me, and I don't remember Amazon announcing any big plans for it, let alone that it was up and running. Then I took a look at the store... jeeze, what a 180. My reaction was about the same as most of yours: "cool, but what am I going to use any of this stuff for?" No wonder Amazon didn't make a big fuss over it... sounds a little like one of those half-baked ideas we were talking about on IWRadio on Tuesday.

From a business angle, well.... my outlook is a little sunnier. Like someone else said, this gets them in on the ground level in a spot where there's virtually no competition - there are all the little vendors they're aggregating, but nobody else doing the aggregating. I wouldn't hazard a guess as to how much this cost (or will cost) them in setting up and overhead, but I suspect not much - it looks just like their regular store, and I'm sure there's a ton of overlap in systems and processes. Maybe it's not such a big bet that 3d printing will take off. After all, we all had the same reaction - "cool, but I'll wait til it gets better". Not "if", when. Maybe that's exactly what they're expecting.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2014 | 7:28:13 AM
Re: Not much that's appealing
@Thomas I agreed with you but I hope that it will go great guns with passage of time and feed back from the consumers. I am of the opinion that a good research should have been done before the launch so that it must have grasped the consumer attention at a very start which it really fails.
SamuelB602
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SamuelB602,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2014 | 8:58:29 PM
More than Bobbles
Pretty cool by Amazon...bobble heads are a good start...but there are a ton of designers out there with real creative talent featuring their 3D files for free. You can see many of these at www.Redpah.com
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2014 | 1:47:35 PM
Re: Not much that's appealing
While their marketplace is new and yes, I agree the selection doesn't have me wanting to open my wallet.  That being said, I've purchased from 3D printing sites before including Shapeways and honestly, despite the higher price tag, I've been able to pick up some relatively neat gifts.  I can definitely see the market for custom 3D printing evolving and becoming more mainstream, but right now it's still too early to see it being widely adopted at this point.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/29/2014 | 1:10:17 PM
Re: Solving the missing goods problem in the Amazon supply chain
I think part of Amazon's goal is just to get in on the ground floor. The technology will improve and Amazon will benefit from the vendor relationships it made a few years from now.
Jeff Jerome
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Jeff Jerome,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 11:22:49 PM
Re: Not much that's appealing

@ David _ I am with you I don't open my wallet to buy into a fad.  And the 3D printing has a long weight to go however we are on the verge of some significant changes as it relates to certain products that benefit from manufacturing with specific materials, i.e. the sole of a shoe for example.  But complex products it will take much more development to get there, and it won't be done on Amazon and it won't be me funding it.

Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 6:33:07 PM
Solving the missing goods problem in the Amazon supply chain
This may in a few cases solve the problem of the Amazon supplier who doesn't produce the goods in time for the holiday. Just press the Print button on the order form.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 5:49:18 PM
Re: Not much that's appealing
Agreed. I like the concept but not the current contents of the marketplace.

 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 5:21:20 PM
Re: Not much that's appealing
I'd be interested in customizable metal tools. But for art objects, cheap plastic falls short.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 5:18:55 PM
Re: Not much that's appealing
What's missing? What would make you open your wallet?

Me, I don't open my wallet easily to begin with, so this struck me as a very cool concept ... for other people to spend their money on.
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