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Innovations in the postal sector. Episode 1: 3D printing

As announced in our post last week, time has come to give you a comprehensive view of innovations in the postal sector. Some innovative services may be known to you already (depeneding on where you live and how innovative your postal operator is). Most of them will however surprise you (at least we hope so) and will show you the undergoing revolution in terms of business models and revenue creation.

As we explained in our previous post, what is ongoing there is just unique. There is no other industry in the world that is trying so hard, so deeply and in so many directions to ensure its future and secure revenues. Postal operators are fighting for their survival. This fight give them the energy and the courage to test wild things. Many will fail for sure but what will remain will shape our future and change consumers’ behaviors on the long-term.

Rather than publishing in one time a book of all innovations, we chose to go for a step-by-step approach. We’ll publish one innovation at a time (in different episodes) and will maintain a page on the website where everything will be summed up. I think that’s the easiest way of doing. If you have a better idea however we’re open.

Let’s start today with episode 1 : 3D printing

3D printing in post offices

 In 2013, 3D printers will be available at select UPS Stores in the US. Michelle Van Slyke, VP Marketing of UPS stores, said the 3D printing will be able to provide opportunities for success for small business customers. The new service offered by the parcel delivery firm will enable entrepreneurs and small business to use the printer to develop prototypes and other object that are needed for their business.

La Poste has launched very recently a similar initiative. Both the general public and professionals are targeted and three offices are already proposing this service in the Ile-de-France region: Hôtel de Ville in Boulogne-Billancourt, Bonne Nouvelle, La Boétie. A six-month test phase is planned before nationwide deployment. Two employees at each branch will be trained to use the 3D printer and assist customers. Small objects will be printed from catalogue or from a 3D file. The catalogue option will be most probably used by individuals, whereas using a proprietary 3D file is more likely to appeal to the professional segment. The 3D printers will be located in a protected area. Large or complex objects will be printed in a special workshop. For this experiment La Poste has signed a partnership French 3D printing specialist Sculpteo.

Interestingly Sculpteo is also Ebay partner in 3D services. Ebay developed a free mobile app for 3D printing with three players in online 3D printing. It allows people to order objects which they can then personalise. Sculpteo is one the partners, and is currently proposing eight products: mobile accessories like smartphone case, figurines printed based on photos of the user and jewellery.

Earlier in 2013 a dedicated section for 3D printing was launched by Amazon.com on its website.

Also interesting is the integration of similar 3D printing services in other industries to enhance the customer experience. Just have a look at the example reported on the Creapills website of Telecom provider Orange in France proposing 3D printing of figurines.

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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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