Within 10 years, 3-D printing could make a major disruption in retail, Deloitte's Lobaugh predicts. Take a simple item like a coffee cup. Instead of producing one in China, transporting it and distributing it to retail stores, you could just download the code for the coffee cup and 3-D print it at a retail outlet or in your own home.
"That starts a dramatic change in terms of the structure of retail," Lobaugh said. And while 3-D printing today is primarily plastic, Lobaugh says there are tests at places like MIT Media Lab and elsewhere with other materials, including fabric.
"The big question is when," he says. Right now a few stores offer rudimentary 3-D-printing services, but they are very limited. He predicts the shift will come in 10 to 20 years.
Steve Yankovich, head of innovation for eBay, thinks someday buying household supplies won't take any effort at all. He says someday a connected home could be able to use previous customer history and real-time data the house records to sense when a light bulb burns out, for example, and order a new one automatically. Or a washing machine will order more detergent when it runs low.
"A box could show up on porch with this disparate set of 10 things the connected home and eBay determined you needed to keep things running smoothly," he says. "It's called zero-effort commerce."
Raquel Ribera, 32, in Carpinteria, California, said she cut back on store shopping when she moved to a less urban area, and would appreciate a service like that.
"Everybody has that nagging to-do list, the random light bulb or batteries to purchase, that's super easy to forget," she says. "If it came to my door automatically that would be nice."
EBay recently bought PhiSix, a company working on creating life-size 3-D models of clothing that can be used in dressing rooms to instantly try on different colors of clothing or different styles. You can see 30 or 40 items of clothing realistically without physically trying them on.
EBay's Yankovich says the technology can be used in a virtual dressing room as well, showing what the clothes look like when you are, say, walking down the street or hitting a golf club.
Some companies have been testing this already. British digital agency Engage created a Virtual Style Pod that scanned shoppers and created a life-size image onto which luxury clothing from brands like Alexander McQueen and DKNY were projected. The Pod was displayed in shopping centers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
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