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Excited to hear that .MGX, Materialise’s high end design label for 3D printed furniture and lamps has just opened the world’s first physical store for 3D printed goods in Brussels’ exclusive Sablon district.  Cited as the world’s first store dedicated to 3D printed items this is an interesting development.

I’ve been waiting for these highstreet retail models to emerge for some time now. While .MGX doesn’t currently appear to cater for user/customer design others (mostly online) do. Currently we have examples of online models such as Shapeways and Ponoko who enable personal manufacture and retailing through marketplaces but less of the physical models with an actual highstreet footprint, perhaps one of the first models is that of Unto this last which offers ‘local craftsmanship at mass production prices’.

We also note design studios who are exploiting the marketplaces enabled by the internets to produce, retail and distribute their own products, systems and services including Nervous Systems,  and The Newspaper Club. Kapow kapow to old hierarchies.

Beyond this we have existing retail models that exploit bespoke production, customisation and consumer engagement in the creation process. These include Build-A-Bear workshop, Quirky and Converse Create, obviously here it is useful to point to Zazzle and Spreadshirt also. I’m tempted to say these retail/production models are poor, demonstrable by the many that have failed in adopting customisation, but it is difficult to dispute the retail success of the Bear workshop and Spreadshirt. It is also difficult to dispute agile production and retail models. I will say however that the implementation of many of these are poor, and much development is possible.

I’m interested in what happens when these models exploit good retail practice, consumer psychology, crowdsourcing, social media… (insert buzzword here). Beyond this the mechanisms to enable customer creation are what ultimately make or break such models, this user interface is key to success, if the barriers are too high the model will fail.

I’ve recently discussed at great length the possibilities of retail/production models where ‘consumer engagement’ is one of the core retail products. Lego has been quite successful at consumer engagement but can this be further commercialised? MadLabs, Howduino, FabLab and other workshop/hubs enable users to participate in the creation process while various technology centric SMEs use workshops as an add on to their studio practice. The effort required to participate is notably lowered in such settings, but still intensive and beyond the scope of more passive consumers.

The question I am asking currently is whether is is possible to create retail models where participation in the creation process is (essentially) the retail product? This question is rhetorical in a sense, of course it is possible, but how good can we make these models, how commercially viable is it, and am I chasing a unicorn?

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4 thoughts on “Participation as the retail product?

  1. You ask a very important question. One of the problem with user generated products is that they have no value in the eyes of most consumers. Massive advertisement budgets and retail expenses are borne by companies to create that perceived value. Perhaps it is important.

  2. I’m interested as to the source of your knowledge. Research indicates an enhanced willingness to pay with user participation in the generation of a product. Also value generation through enhanced consumer-product-attachment and second level value.

  3. Pingback: Musings on design as the retail product | The HighWire

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