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Tesco sheds light on 3D printing plans

27 Sep 2013

SAN FRANCISCO: 3D printing could soon be seen in retail stores, allowing shoppers to order certain basic items and have them printed out on-demand, according to the IT chief of Tesco.

Mike McNamara was in San Francisco this week to talk about the future of retail technology at the Oracle OpenWorld show. He believes that the rate of technological change affecting retailers over the next few years will be “breathtaking”, with super-fast networks, cloud computing and smartphones all combining to change customer behaviour.

Another area set to impact the retail process is 3D printing, which McNamara sees being rolled out by stores to offer customers extra services.

“It’s still in its infancy, it’s been around for a few years, but it’s getting cheaper, it’s getting a little bit easier, it’s getting a little more flexible than it has been in the past,” he told V3 during an interview at the show. “I think over the next few years you will see 3D printing in shops, because for the missing hose from the vacuum printer, you can print them in the time that someone enters the store, does a bit of shopping and leaves the store. So I can definitely see that being part of the retail offering in the none too distant future.

But McNamara said it would take much longer for 3D printers to be widely adopted in the home. “I think that’s still a way a way to be honest.”

The Tesco IT chief said if and when the home 3D printing revolution does take off, he was unconcerned about losing sales due to consumers printing out goods at home rather than visiting a store or order online from a traditional retailer.

“I think it will help Tesco as a company, I don’t think it will be a bad thing,” he said. “It’ll be a great thing for customers, we’ll have 3D printing in our stores. As retailers you’ll always adapt. So new things come along - the internet came along, we adapted to that one. We kind of have the internet version two with smartphones now, which has been a bigger impact than the wired internet, we’ll adapt to that, we’ll adapt to 3D printing, we’ll adapt to RFID. You live, you change.”

The 3D printing revolution could actually help retailers increase footfall in stores against the rise of online purchasing, as it will give shoppers a new reason to visit shops for quick access to niche items. McNamara certainly does not see the death of the shop any time soon.

“Physical stores won’t disappear. To see this as a fight between physical and digital is to see it all wrong,” he said. “Already today 65 percent of our online orders are click and collect.”

In order to survive, retailers will need to focus on price, product choice, service and convenience, while local stores will be tailored to their particular customers’ needs in an age of customisation.

V3 will be running the full interview with Mike McNamara in the November edition of the tablet app, where he reveals how Tesco is using data analytics and supply chain innovations to improve its customer service; shares his views on how the Internet of Things will impact retail; and gives guidance on how the high street can survive in the age of online.

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Madeline Bennett

Madeline Bennett is editor of V3 and The INQUIRER. Previously, she was editor of IT Week. Prior to becoming a journalist, Madeline was an English teacher at a London secondary school. Madeline is a regular technology commentator on TV and radio, including Sky, BBC and CNN. 

View Madeline's Google+ profile

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