Reading several articles about the breakthroughs in 3D printing suddenly gave me a vision on what the future of retail could be possibly 30 years from now. You'll have to use your imagination as I take you on this journey, you may roll your eyes and utter the word "ppleeeasse!" but bare with me.
Imagine if you would a future in where we are all purchasing one physical product that gets delivered to our houses a bit like like gas or water its piped to our houses or shipped by lorries. Its arrives in large vats filled with not very interesting grey granules. It is a key product and its value is an indicator of how well an economy is doing just like the price of oil. We go to comparison websites to choose the company with the better deal as we do for out telephone, gas or electricity.
Just how every home now has a TV, broadband and a computer of some kind, every home has an advanced compact and state of the art 3D printer. Online Shops such as Amazon and Apple were at the forefront of this technology wave as just as we had programs such as iTunes installed on our machines for music we have programs such as iWear and Jungle Stuff. These programs work almost exactly the same as iTunes or Spotify, we find a digital item we want and pay for it. It is then automatically downloaded. But the difference is we are now paying for the DRM protected designs for clothes, shoes, hand bags, pans, dishes and small furniture items. We download these items and our 3D printers which take the grey granules we purchase in bulk, "print" these products into the real world as wearable clothing shoes or small items.
The quality of what we buy is governed by the price we pay for these granules. We buy cheaper granules for things we do not think we will posses for long. When we are done with an item of clothing it is fed back into the printer and broken back down into its granular form. The system recycles itself. Thousand of unknown designers just as unknown authors did, now have a platform to market their designs to the public at incredibly low costs. The industry of manufacturing cheap garments in the far east has disappeared and replaced by just the need for the most up to date designs. But here is a grey area and as markets have taught us there will always be a black market to any new product. It takes it place in copies of original copyright designs and the breaking of DRM protected designs and people "chipping" or hacking their 3D printers so they can accept non copyright designs. There is of course an open source movement, as usual its not for the technically inept and more focused towards those that understand the technology and can accept designs through an open market where people have contributed free designs.
It is a world where traditional brands such as Nike, Adidas etc focus on the next cutting edge design of their product and will probably endorse a certain type of granule for their products.
There will still be a market for traditional products but these will be for the wealthier as our populations increase producing cottons, silks and wool become more expensive as land is better suited given over to food production.
There you have it my thoughts on where retail could be in the very distant future.