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Sainsbury’s predicts 3D printing will shake up retail sector

31 Jan 2013
Sainsburys store front

Sainsbury's IT department is currently preparing its strategy for 3D printing, which it predicts will make a radical change to the supermarket business.

Sainsbury's IT director, Rob Fraser, said the firm is currently analysing the possible impact 3D printing may have on its business, looking for ways to outflank its competitors.

Fraser said he first broached the subject of 3D printing internally in a meeting a few years ago. However, now the technology is getting more popular, Fraser said there's need for his business to look more in detail about the possible impact it may have on the retail sector.

"We have to prepare for the fact that consumers may soon not want to buy pre-packaged iPhone cases of the shelf, but build and design their own," said Fraser.

The emergence of 3D printing is likely to have a far reaching impact on retailers in the coming years, said Fraser.

"The big challenge is we don't know what's coming but we have to prepare for it. Technology is changing at a rate we can't predict, and if we can predict it, it's already been established. The technologies we can't predict will be with us in five years' time," said Fraser.

"When I meet with Microsoft and Google, which I try to do at least twice a year, I ask them about what the future will hold for their customers, as it will hold similar for us. I'm interested, for example, in seeing what kind of features Microsoft will launch in Windows 9.2."

The supermarket IT chief was speaking at BETT, the UK's largest trade fair used to showcase education technology.

Sainsbury's told V3 it expected to be able to reveal more information about ts 3D printing plans later this year.

Also at BETT, Fraser discussed how the supermarket was using technology to remain ahead of rivals, such as Tesco and Asda.

For example, Fraser said his IT department was behind the innovation of the brand matching technology Sainsbury's has brought in, which allows customers to see in real-time the comparison in prices between a Sainsbury's shop and an Asda or Tesco.

However, Fraser said it's important to ensure customers are not forced to rely on technology when shopping.

"We know none of our customers want to be forced into doing self-services. Some of our competitors have brought in self-service stores, but we will always give them an option."

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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