Pundit: Amazon should allow custom products

Continuing my user-created content theme, cnn.com suggests the following for Amazon in 2006:

Amazon.com’s resolution: Let customers design their own products

Amazon.com is in the information business, not the retail business. One big reason people shop at Amazon is because of its rich trove of information about products (prices, descriptions, specs, images, customer ratings and reviews). The next logical step is to take information directly from customers about what they want and fabricate it for them.

It may still be a few years (or even decades) too early for Amazon to offer a full range of such “fabbing” services, but there is no reason it cannot start modestly with a few fabbing experiments this year.

For relatively basic product categories where customization is key (like kitchen cabinet hardware or plastic toys), customers would go to a new “design” section of the Amazon site. There, using simplified, Web-based, 3-D design software, customers could create their own drawer pulls, cell phone cases or action figures based on their kids’ favorite cartoon characters (available for an extra license fee, of course). Tight design parameters would ensure a basic floor of quality.

Then, all Amazon would need to do is set up some equipment like computer-controlled milling machines, 3-D printers, and other rapid prototyping tools (or better yet, farm out the actual fabbing to entrepreneurial machine shops and factories). Once customers get a taste of designing their own products, they will start to wonder why they need companies to do it for them.

Amazon could then add more categories, and create a design marketplace where customers, professional designers, and (yes) forward-thinking companies trade and sell designs, along with ratings and reviews for each design from other customers.