What Does Retail Mean in a World of 3D Printers?

This is a question I had today. This is going to be a blog post more about questions than answers.

What does “retail” mean in a world of 3D printers? In the Industrial Age people went to factories to make things, which then travelled to retail stores where customers bought them. If the means of production do not have to be physically separate from where they are sold because of technologies like 3D printing, then what does it mean to be a retailer? Obviously, in the year 2014 and the current realities of 3D printing then I’m talking more about small toy retailers or other niche markets. In the future, say 2020, then maybe this will be more generalized, but for now don’t dismiss my question by saying that most stuff can’t be 3D printed right now.

Does being a retailer include manufacturing on site, using 3D printing? If you are a sun glasses retailer, is it really an excuse to say that I can’t have sun glasses with X feature “because they don’t make them like that?” Is it acceptable business practice to say that the manufacturer or supplier provides these 100 pairs for you to select from and if you don’t like them, then don’t expect for us to serve you?

Taking sun glasses as an example, what if I saw a pair of 3D printed sun glasses frames on MakerShop.co and I wanted my local sun glasses hut to let me send them the design, they 3D print it and insert the sun glass lenses and I pick it up tomorrow?

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