Walmart could become a huge 3D printing player in the near future

11/12/2013 - 00:00

I’ve noticed an important trend when writing about different retail markets. Usually there will be one or two “category killers” in each segment. Then Walmart, Amazon, and eBay usually round out the top five. In the finale, I’m focusing on one of those, making the case for the world’s largest retailer.

All along I’ve written about real world products that could be 3D printed and sold online and in-store. From auto parts, to vacuum accessories, shower heads, light switch plates, Holiday ornaments, phone cases, fishing gear, housewares and more, there’s a lot that can be 3D printed now and the technology is evolving fast. Databases full of digital products – potential new SKUs – are coming soon.

One of the big benefits of 3D printing is that it allows you to manufacture as close as possible to the point of need. Proximity matters, and not everyone will print everything at home.

Retailers with brick-and-mortar have a new advantage. Walmart is the world’s largest and has over 11,000 stores worldwide. They’re the big dog. While many specialty retailers could sell a line of 3D printed products in their niche category, Walmart could sell ALL of them, and at colossal scale.

Why 3D printing? What if in seven years, the market for 3D printed consumer products was somewhere north of $5 billion and growing…fast. What if Walmart could get $400 million’s worth of market share by then? What if they found that offering 3D print services could assist their mobile efforts, defend against showrooming, and reduce shrink? Wouldn’t they at least think about it?

They’re doing more than that…they’re already offering a 3D imaging and printing service in-store. Walmart recently launched a test at the York store of its UK affiliate, Asda. Whatever the outcome of the test, Walmart is learning about 3D printing, and soon they will put that knowledge to work.

Specialty retailers who wish to compete for digital sales in their category must now run with the big dog…and the race is on...