This week, Amazon announced its new 3-D printing store. We were immediately giddy, imagining the endless possibilities of being able to upload any design and, in Amazon fashion, have it shipped to us in solid form overnight. But the online book purveyor that has diversified to sell basically everything on the planet seems to have squandered its opportunity to transform the 3-D printing movement; the products in its new online marketplace are not customizable, fairly expensive, and slow to be delivered.
The new 3-D printed store allows “customers [to] become designers” with a variety of goods ranging from home décor to jewelry to electronics accessories. “The introduction of our 3-D Printed Products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail – that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience,” said Petra Schindler-Carter, Director for Amazon Marketplace Sales, in a press release. This may represent a shift towards the future of online retail, but Amazon isn’t doing it right. At least, not yet.
The first issue is with how customizable these products really are. Some have nearly infinite varieties, like this super cool quark pendant (Mom, note this one for my Christmas list), and really do grant the customer a fair amount of creative control. But many other products, including most of the electronics accessories and some décor, simply aren’t customizable at all. Why do I want these things 3-D printed, anyway?
Price, you say? Maybe these 3-D printed items are cheaper than their conventionally manufactured counterparts. That would be a great argument, except that it’s wrong. Take, for example, this 3-D Printed Nexus 7 Stand. The 3-D printed version sells for $52.59. A slightly more sophisticated version, on sale in another corner of Amazon’s infinite marketplace, would run you $20.48, including shipping. You can attest that price difference to “the coolness factor” of 3-D printing.
The amount of time the products need to ship, too, is long for those of us who have been spoiled by Amazon’s inhuman delivery speeds, requiring a tortoise-like 6-10 days in most cases. That’s too long for me to wait to get my “hanging ‘dawg'” sculpture.
As it stands now, the site is missing out on the best feature of 3-D printing: its infinite capacity for invention. In an ideal world, customers would be able to design something, based on their own plans or ones provided by an external company, and Amazon would print and ship with its trademark alacrity. That would make this new marketplace into a truly exciting gamechanger, bringing the power and ease of 3-D printing to people who have never had it before.