I’ll admit it: If you had asked me to write a post about the supply chain a few months ago, I probably would have yawned (and then asked you to forgive me for being so rude). That is, I didn’t think the supply chain was particularly interesting—until I started noticing some of the radical innovations that stand to change how we think about supply chains and how they operate. Here are just a few of them.


Quirky is all about “inventing together.” They ask inventors two main questions:

“What problem are you trying to solve?”

“How do you intend to solve it?”

Ten inventions are surfaced every week and put through a “rigorous analysis” of design, market, and viability. After some debate, the Quirky team identifies the top two inventions and begins product development. But consumers aren’t shut out of this process, either. Users influence every stage:  pricing, product naming, design, and more. All products can be bought on Quirky.com, and many of them are available at Quirky’s retail partners like Staples, Target, and Amazon.

MakerBot & Thingiverse

MakerBot made the world’s first truly consumer-accessible 3D printer. Simply put, this technology will change everything. First, machines like this can literally print their own improvements, and even self-replicate. Second, with the introduction of sites like Thingiverse, consumers have places to obtain high-quality designs of everything from Jabba the Hut models to padlocks—all from their homes.  Third, 3D printing has removed costly barriers to entry for design and prototyping that benefit established manufacturing firms. The Economist sees the same future:

“The printing of parts and products has the potential to transform manufacturing because it lowers the costs and risks. No longer does a producer have to make thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of items to recover his fixed costs. In a world where economies of scale do not matter anymore, mass-manufacturing identical items may not be necessary or appropriate, especially as 3D printing allows for a great deal of customisation.”

And that’s just manufacturers. Retailers, too, will need to seriously think about where they fit in, and adapt quickly. While MarkerBot and competing platforms like Cubify haven’t yet impacted the average person, they’re gearing up to change entire industries.

Get on the Shelf

This Walmart project took a new approach to retail product assortment. Anyone could submit their product for a chance to end up in Walmart stores, and visitors to GetOnTheShelf.com submitted more than 274,000 votes on 4,000 ideas. Walmart saw the votes as social signals that indicated market demand, and three new products were chosen to grace the retailer’s shelves online and in a number of physical locations.

Get on the Shelf proved that collaboration between retailers, suppliers, and consumers can be fluid, meaningful, and bursting with insights.

Footprint Chronicles

Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles offers consumers radical transparency about the brand’s entire supply chain. Textile mills and factories appear as nodes on a world map, and each can has a profile, complete with name, address, type of operation, worker gender mix, and product type produced. Some supplier profiles contain additional information, such as videos and articles featuring executives and workers discussing factory conditions and environmental standards.

While most brands continue to keep this information close to the chest, a vocal subset of consumers care about the origins of the products they buy, and as this information becomes even more accessible, they will be even more empowered to vote with their dollars. Millennials are particularly interested in this information:  63% of them say that knowing a company is “mindful of its social responsibilities” makes them more likely to buy from its brands.

Note: Walmart and Patagonia are Bazaarvoice clients.

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