CES Revisited: How 3-D Printing and The Internet of Things May Impact the Customer Experience of the Future

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It's tough to predict what the future may hold. But that doesn't stop us from thinking about it. This includes how technological innovation may affect the customer experience of the future and considerations for business leaders to ponder. I recently had an opportunity to discuss these issues with Bernard Luthi, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Rakuten.com, based in part on some of his takeaways from the recent 2014 International CES consumer electronics event in Las Vegas.

It's tough to predict what the future may hold. But that doesn't stop us from thinking about it. This includes how technological innovation may affect the customer experience of the future and considerations for business leaders to ponder. I recently had an opportunity to discuss these issues with Bernard Luthi, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Rakuten.com, based in part on some of his takeaways from the recent 2014 International CES consumer electronics event in Las Vegas.For instance, even though commercial applications for 3-D printing are still in their relative infancy (the technology itself has been around since the early 1980s), these systems are already impacting the customer experience. Luthi notes how small kiosks have popped up at retail malls where consumers can have cellphone cases and other customized products made on the spot while they watch them being created. The bicycle shown in the image with this blog was created from nylon by EADS in 2011 using a 3-D printer.

"The connection between product and customer becomes a very personal experience," says Luthi.

Wearable technologies such as smart watches, Google Glass-type devices, and even social media jeans that will update your location and mood to Facebook and Twitter are also gaining increased attention. Luthi points to how Apple's iBeacon location sensing technology is being implemented in some retail outlets to interact with customers' iPhones. He believes that the technology could eventually be extended to wearables where health-monitoring wrist bands could be used to track a consumer's location and physical activity in a retail store. "Imagine walking into a shoe store and having shoes recommended to you automatically based on the intensity and type of physical activity you do the most," says Luthi.

There are also budding consumer applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) where remote sensors, objects, and other IP-connected devices are able to share data. Luthi predicts that retailers can play a crucial role in educating consumers about the potential for IoT by setting up large-scale product exhibits to demonstrate applications for the Internet-connected home that consumers may not be aware of yet.

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