After Killing Retail, Tech is Now Bringing it Back to Life

Bill Kerman on ShapewaysWhen a colossus like IBM makes technology predictions, it has the feel of a self-fulfilling prophesy about it.

With revenues of $99.75 billion in 2013, Big Blue has a lot of weight to throw behind its pet projects.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see what tech the company is betting on — especially if one of them seems to run counter to conventional wisdom.

According to VentureBeat, IBM’s five predictions are:

  • The classroom will learn you.
  • Buying local will beat online.
  • Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well.
  • A digital guardian will protect you online.
  • The city will help you live in it.

Given the drubbing traditional retailers have taken from online competitors, it was interesting to a see prediction that local stores are set to fight back.

Ironically, this is due to technology leveling out the playing field in favor of physical retailers, IBM says. Things like artifical intelligence and augmented reality, when combined with the physical presence of a shop staffed by a real person, will give “bricks and mortar” the edge, it says.

But it will be the specialist or boutique shops that win out, according to Joshua Klein writing in Quartz. Mass production has “timed out,” he says. “Instead, we are now entering the primacy of design.”

Here again, a technological revolution is driving the changes. Klein says:

3D printing, together with steady advances in robotics, is making it increasingly plausible to create smaller, more nimble production houses, which are more widely distributed closer to buyers.

Klein gives the example of Ponoko, which connects shops with manufacturers who have 3D printers and laser cutters.

Fast Company, meanwhile, profiles Shapeways, “a sort of Etsy for the tech set that helps designers and programmers turn computer models into 3-D–printed objects for sale to the masses.”

There’s a lot of stuff to waste your time on on Shapeways: art, fashion, gadgets, even make your own.

Launched in the Netherlands in 2008, it relocated to New York in 2010, and raised $30 million in funding last year.

According to Fast Company, 60,000 new designs are uploaded each month. That’s a lot of noise to cut through. But if someone with a good eye opened a store…

Image of figurines taken from Shapeways.