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EBay puts weight behind 3D printing to differentiate mcommerce

EBay has rolled out an iPhone application as part of its move towards creating a marketplace of 3D printing products that lets consumers shop straight from their devices.

The online retail platform has partnered with the 3D printing technology companies Hot Pop Factory, MakerBot and Sculpteo to create a commerce-enabled app. The eBay Exact app is available for free download for iPhone devices.

“EBay has launched its eBay Exact app in partnership with three 3D printing manufacturers,” said Steve Yankovich, vice president of innovation and new ventures at eBay, San Jose, CA.

“The app allows consumers to choose from 20 different items – ranging from jewelry to tech accessories – which are all created via 3D printing,” he said.

Mobile shopping
The app lets consumers pick from 18 products, and the homepage is broken into three sections – one for each 3D printing company.

Each item can either be bought on the spot or customized with features such as engravings.

Some of the products featured include a nylon bracelet and a plastic iPhone case.

Information on the product pages also helps consumers learn more about the items, including shipping availability and estimated date of arrival.

Consumers can then buy the products via a PayPal account or by typing in the information from a debit or credit card.

The 3D printing partners will then ship the products to consumers within seven to 14 days once an order is made.

3D printing is a manufacturing method that uses a computer-controlled printer to build products by stacking materials via a layering technique.

By focusing on creating a curated marketplace of products, eBay’s new Exact app is similar to a marketplace like Etsy that lets consumers quickly search through products.

Mobile past
EBay has been building up its mobile efforts lately to not only compete in mobile payments but also carve out a spot for itself with retailers.

For example, eBay recently revamped its RedLaser mobile app to align more closely with retailers to move beyond solely being a hub for price comparisons (see story).

Although the 3D printing space is still new, leveraging a mobile app might help eBay spread the word to consumers about the products to a tech-savvy audience.

Additionally, attaching the 3D printing partners to eBay will likely help the small retailers reach a wider group of consumers than they would be able to do otherwise.

However, by taking an app-only approach eBay might also be missing out on reaching a significantly large group of Web users.

3D printing’s focus is on personalizing the retail experience for consumers, which could be significantly important in the mobile space, according to some industry experts.

“At Shapeways, we’re looking forward to watching the mobile segment of the industry grow as more developers take advantage of our API,” said Elsa Richardson, spokeswoman for Shapeways, New York.

“3D printing is the future in the way that mobile was five years ago,” she said.

“As mobile connectivity has become more advanced, shoppers want direct, easy access to products they care about. 3D Printing allows for easy customization of products, and bringing that customization to a mobile app makes the technology much more accessible and has great implications for consumers.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York