In the United States, online retail is experiencing double-digit growth. By 2015 it is projected to be a nearly $300 billion market. So what will drive future growth?
The current evidence from leaders like Etsy and Fab.com suggest that e-commerce will grow via optimization: flash sales, subscriptions, social recommendations, crowdsourcing, advertorials, better targeting of customers, etc. Brick and mortar retail is also going through a slow reawakening with the advent of in-store mobile commerce. At a minimum, we can expect smarter experiences that tap into the latest and greatest from behavioral economics, big data, and improved technology (i.e., faster mobile, widespread broadband access, and ubiquitous displays).
However, e-commerce is likely to go beyond better of the same; it will be different. Looking at creative trends and the emergence of 3D printing communities, we can expect the rise of “creative commerce” (c-commerce). It will be a shift from a two-sided marketplace (BUY and SELL) to a dynamic makerplace (CREATE, BUY and SELL).
People of all tech backgrounds are already involved in the creation of the content they consume—from music to art to news to video. Take blogging, for example. With easy-to-use tools like WordPress, Tumblr or even Twitter, writing and sharing ideas became easy for everyone. The desire to be involved in a creative process before the purchase extends beyond digital content and into the objects that populate our lives.
The growing Maker Movement and the trend toward participatory design are early signs of the shift to creative commerce. Crowdsourcing of designs is already quite common, and there are lightweight customization platforms that allow consumers to give T-shirts or sports gear a personalized design, for example, using platforms like Threadless, CafePress, and NikeID. Some of the most successful products of the past decade used community insights to drive product innovation, such as the revival of LEGO Mindstorms.
When Etsy closed its latest round of funding, Doreen Lorenzo, President of Frog Innovation, wrote:
It’s easy to see that many consumers are increasingly seeing themselves as creators, too… But it’s not just about simple crowd-sourcing for ideas by asking people to suggesting how to improve or create products via online brainstorming sites, as was the rage in the mid-2000s. Today, consumers want to participate in forming and promoting their concepts in a very personal way, with themselves in the spotlight.
One of the tools best suited to democratize product design and development is 3D printing. It enables you to make something—on demand—that fits your needs exactly. And unlike the days of couture, the costs and quality of making one thing “just right” rival products that you can buy off the shelf. The ease with which 3D printing allows people to tap into their creative potential is one of the main reasons I joined Shapeways, the 3D printing marketplace and community. As our CEO Peter Weijmarshausen often explains, we’re not used to thinking about our individual needs first because we’re so accustomed to mass manufacturing, which caters to the lowest common denominator and hence, lowest price.
Creative commerce has existed for some time in a host of offline capacities—custom tailoring, craft workshops, farm-to-table. Its rise, however, is fueled by a combination of timely factors: open source, the accessibility of 3D printing, and the increasing connectedness of the Internet and the ease with which you can find your niche (shout out to Chris Anderson’s Long Tail). Soon enough, anyone will be able to come up with and make unique products on demand. And for the majority of people whose eyebrows still furrow at the thought of designing a product, the fact that you don’t make something until someone orders it is still more active than pulling an object off a shelf.
For many the mall still reigns as the centerpiece for social interaction and retail therapy. Groups of teens and adults alike barge the doors at the start of a post-holiday sale, lounge in food courts to refuel on over-sauced Kung Pao chicken, and fill their SUVs with neatly-pressed shopping bags, whose purchases squeal, “you didn’t need me, but now I’m yours.”
I’m looking forward to the day when the question, “What did you make today?” will become as common as “What did you get at the mall?”
Carine Carmy is the Director of Marketing for Shapeways, the 3D printing marketplace and community.