French retail group and multinational corporation Auchan has 269,000 employees and stores in over 12 countries. It is known for being an upscale variety store, which is a more successful notion in Europe than in America, because of the abundance of malls and “mega-stores” in America. As 3D printing becomes increasingly visible in mainstream outlets, it’s interesting to see how different chains adapt to an emerging hardware technology like 3D printing. Walmart, Staples and Home Depot have begun selling 3D printers, and Target announced a partnership with Shapeways at the beginning of last month. Now, at its flagship store in Lille, France has opened a 3D printing area to help its customers buy a range of personalized products.
Similar to the way the American chain stores have partnered up with various 3D printing companies, the new “Yoomake Kiosk” is the result of a partnership between Belgian 3D printing service company imaterialise, (part of the Materialise NV Group) and 3D customization company, Twikit. Twikit started out as a 3D printing service that specialized in customized trophies for novel and traditional uses.
Since then they have further tweaked their 3D customization engine, and are quickly developing a range of easy-to-use apps for that engine. According to the company, that is meant to create a fun and easy 3D printing experience, tailored to consumers. The goal can be easily summed up: To make 3D printing and designing so accessible that “everyday people and brands can create unique 3D objects, without actually having to master the complex skills or software that is usually needed.” After a customer “customizes” an object in their engine, they link up with various partners to create those objects in real life.
Bringing this concept to life through the Yoomake Kiosk, shoppers can design and purchase objects as well as order items to be printed. The orders are created at Materialise’s headquarters and sent to the store for the customer to pick up. This seems to be the industry standard now if you are creating a shopping experience physically or digitally with a web app.
According to Group Auchan’s innovation and Yoomake project director, Emmanuel Le Bouille, “Personalised product experiences are a growing trend in the retail industry and this initiative demonstrates how 3D printing lets designs go from the digital realm to real life. Auchan prides itself on adopting new technologies and bringing them to the general public. By combining the technical knowhow of Twikit and imaterialise with the commercial knowhow of Auchan, we let our customers’ ideas become reality through the Yoomake 3D print service in our Lille shop.”
Martijn Joris, the co-founder of Twikit has complete faith in the inherent desire of the consumer for customization. “At Twikit, we really believe in this new way of creating and producing 3D customizable products, for all kinds of applications. That is why we created a user-friendly 3D customization application, which allows customers to personalize their product in no time. We are proud to be a partner of Auchan for their customization concept.”
It will be interesting to have a few years of data to analyze to see how fruitful these new partnerships become. I don’t think Walmart, Target or Staples ever sold a machine that could be used to make another one of itself. When writing about giant chains slurping up technological trends like this, I wonder if their higher-ups even entertain the possibility that these machines could eventually eliminate the need for these “superstores” all together.