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E-commerce and 3D printers: a specialised online store now available

3D printer in use and logo of 3dmaker 
3D printing is a technology allowing makers and digital artisans – but also simple DIY buffs – to produce objects independently and thus create projects and prototypes at low cost. The large-scale spread of this technology has enabled the creation of objects previously impossible to make and, in parallel, has created a new market: that of the sale of 3D printers and of the supplies needed for their operation, such as filaments and accessories to improve the printers' performance. Two businessmen from Oristano, Antonio Onidi and Davide Del Nista quickly seized the opportunities offered by this new market and opened their 3D-Maker Store, an e-commerce website dedicated to the world of 3D printing.

Davide, can you tell us something about 3D-Maker Store and how it came about?
3D-Maker Store is an online store dedicated to the world of 3D printing. It was set up by Antonio Onidi and myself, who already owned advertising agency Kiwi Adv. My background is in art and I have a passion for design and technological progress. Antonio is trained in electrotechnics and gained professional experience in the field of communications and logistics. He is a DIY enthusiast and has a passion for all things connected to electricity and electronics.

How and why did you get the idea of opening an online store for makers? What potential do you see for this market?
At the end of 2013 Antonio, always on the lookout for new ideas to offer customers, was increasingly coming across articles and news on 3D printing and the makers' movement. He soon became fascinated by the topic and purchased his first 3D printer online, a 3drag in a self-assembly kit. From there, and since we were already creating e-commerce websites for our customers, we got the idea of setting up our own 3D-printing online store, relying on our experience in the field of marketing and communications. The idea was to gather together in a single store all those products which up to that point in time had to be ordered from several different suppliers, often outside Italy. We launched the website in May 2014 and every month we try to add new products. We started with a dozen products and have now reached more than 70. From the start we noted a fair amount of interest around 3D printing, although many people are still unsure what it's all about. We think this technology has already begun to revolutionize several production sectors, but it will take some time before it becomes really widespread. In the meantime we are meeting the demands of what is still a niche market, by selecting manufacturers (many from Italy) and high-quality and reliable equipment, which we test ourselves. To introduce more people to this fascinating world we also plan to organize classes on how to assemble and use a 3D printer.

Who are your customers?
Our customers are mostly DIY people, scale-model builders, engineers and designers. But in the next few months we aim to add to our catalogue special printers for professional use. We believe that potential customers are quite a varied bunch given the broad range of sectors which can take advantage of 3D printing technology.

If you were to give advice to a would-be e-retailer, what pitfalls would you highlight?
Similarly to a traditional shop, when setting up an online store the main difficulty lies in building and managing a reasonably varied stock of products, plus of course the initial investment. Moreover, with online selling, the potential market is much larger than that of a physical shop and likewise the number of competitors is much greater. To survive in this environment, apart from sound commercial know-how, you must have good technical skills to manage the website platform, promote your store on social networks, analyse visits etc… We were lucky in that we could rely on the know-how we had built over many years of work with our customers, but those who don't possess these skills themselves need the support of professionals to obtain real results. This of course adds to set-up costs. Another aspect to be borne in mind is the current legislation on e-commerce, which treats online stores in exactly the same way as high-street shops. So you need to look into the rules and fulfil all legal requirements, including registering with the competent authorities, if you want to avoid hefty fines.

What opportunities can the makers'world offer to young people?
A few days ago we were at the Maker Faire in Rome and we were absolutely fascinated by all the buzz and energy surrounding this world. We learnt about key developments such as the global success of the Arduino microprocessor and the expiry of some multinational patents, enabling mass dissemination of these technologies. Such sweeping changes are perhaps akin to a new industrial revolution. And, as they are happening at a time of economic and social stagnation, they are ideally suited to attract young people, who by definition have bright ideas but little money. Low-cost electronics, 3D-printers and the open-source philosophy now make it possible to move from idea to product (or at least prototype) and give free rein to creativity. Some projects are truly revolutionary, others less so, but what really matters is that ideas create opportunities, new jobs and awareness of the fact that in the future we will be able to create personalized objects also in small numbers, rather than being passive recipients of mass-produced goods.

Carlo Contu

Useful links
3D maker store