Learning From Others’ Mistakes - Or, Why You Should Visit the MakerBot Store in Manhattan
MakerBot is an exciting company, but it’s a bit premature to be building a monument to their own success. I expected to walk into a store ready to inspire me about the potential of 3D printing, and instead, I walked out disappointed.
Let me explain.
Every product comes with implicit promises. Promises both rational (ROI) and irrational (emotional impulses). To deliver a great retail experience, a store environment needs to engage customers - not turn them away. Instead of creating an environment that educates and engages customers, the MakerBot store felt like a museum store. A museum store complete with wall signage portraying items from MakerBot printers as art, with $20-40 price tags to match. But not just a museum store, but a store that promised a perfect product that is currently far from perfect.
I’ve used the MakerBot (including the Replicator 2) on five different occasions. Startups (for good reason) love playing with it, and several use it for internal prototyping. In fact, I was inspired to visit the store about a week ago in Manhattan because I had just used a MakerBot printer at a startup based in Boston the day before.
The problem is, the product doesn’t work as advertised in the store. Given the state of today’s art, the MakerBot Replicator 2 represents an impressive accomplishment - but the items that come out of the printer are a far cry from the polished items you see for sale in the store. Anyone who buys a printer and expects the results you see in the store - without the series of post-production steps that are required to get to the resulting items you see in the store - is going to be sorely disappointed.
I walked into the store ready to buy. As I looked at one of the boxed, ready-to-sell Replicator 2 printers, a salesman walked up to me. Awesome! He was friendly and engaging. Even more awesome! I asked if I could have it shipped to me. He said yes! And then he said something that you would never, ever hear in an Apple store … “Did you see the new printer we just announced at CES?” I said that no, I hadn’t. He said that I might want to wait for it - it’s awesome! How long until I can get it? Two or three months was the answer. What’s great about it? It can print from two spools, in multiple colors at once.
But what came next from the salesman shocked me. “But the new printer doesn’t really work that well … you need to be an advanced user to make it work.” Wow, I thought to myself. Do I have what it takes to be a $2,000 MakerBot owner?
Then it hit me. The whole message of the store was: “See how great we are!” When the message should be “…you can and should join us in the MakerBot revolution.”
I don’t think the MakerBot founders realize they’re sending this message. I’ve met them in the past. They’re great guys. And the product is truly groundbreaking. The problem here is that the retail environment sends the wrong messages. Yes, it’s a good idea to give people a chance to experience the product. But when you go to the effort of building a store, make sure that it delivers on your objectives. Actually make it easier to experience the product, rather than look at items under glass. Don’t throw subliminal challenges at your customers - engage them! Embrace them! And give them every reason to buy what’s on your shelf, not walk out empty-handed and confused.