It is “most likely” that Amazon will bring its new on-demand textile printing Merch by Amazon service to the UK at some point, according to an industry expert.
The e-commerce titan, which topped annual sales of $100bn (£69.7bn) in its full-year results on Thursday, has signed what is thought to be a multimillion-dollar contract with Kornit to supply a number of Avalanche 1000 digital garment printers for its yet to be launched Merch by Amazon programme.
Merch lets businesses and independent designers create and sell t-shirts that are then shipped on-demand to customers by Amazon.
Director of print and packaging market analyst Infotrends Ron Gilboa said there was already a thriving market for digital t-shirt printing in the UK, with specialist websites including Speadshirt, Shirtinator and Streetshirts as well as W2P giants including Cimpress, through its Vistaprint company. These offer printing for as little as £2.99 each and delivery as fast as next-day.
And while in a slightly different market, US textile printing website Spoonflower established a production base in Berlin in December, following significant European sales.
“You see with Amazon, you see with Spoonflower moving to Berlin, purchase-activated manufacturing is slowly taking hold. Nothing is produced until someone makes a purchase, it’s all about the supply chain and how to address consumers' needs,” Gilboa said. “The consumer gets what they want when they want it, they design it, they imagine it. The user is completely involved and will love it.
“It’s not unlike Amazon to make this type of investment, for example as it did in out-of-print books.”
He said Amazon wanted to increase its “wallet share”.
“You're going to buy that t-shirt from someone, it might as well be them,” he said.
Amazon would not comment on whether it had plans to introduce Merch by Amazon to Europe but, according to Ofcom research released just over a year ago, UK consumers spend more online than those from any other developed country.
Gilboa, who is a key speaker at Fespa Digital’s one-day Fespa Digital Textile Conference on 8 March, has previously identified mass customisation as a “mega-trend”.
“I don't know how quickly they are going to move this [Merch by Amazon] to the UK,” he added. “If you do a search for custom-designed t-shirts in the UK you get a lot of hits. It is most likely they will, but when? That's up to them.”
Kornit marketing director for Europe Oliver Luedtke would not disclose how many machines will be supplied to the retail giant or how much the deal was worth but it's thought to run into several million dollars.
The machines will go into Amazon’s Texas-based print facility which already has a number of direct-to-garment Kornit machines used to service customers of Woot! a US daily deal website similar to Groupon or Wowcher, which Amazon also sells through.
Luedtke said: “The beauty of this is customers upload their logo to the platform and Amazon will make it for you. There are no inventory costs for Amazon.”
He said customers ranged from high-street garment shops to big industrial-scale clients.
According to Luedtke the value of the entire textile market – printed and non-printed – was $1tr, with printed textiles worth $165bn or 16.5% of that total market. Of this, digitally printed textiles were worth about $10bn and the market was averaging growth of 15%-20% annually.
“This is an incredible growth rate and the market is very huge – it's an industry sweet spot, and we are very happy to be part of it right now.”
The agreement includes on-site support by Kornit Digital’s field service professionals, said executive vice president of sales Sarel Ashkenazy.
“State-of-the-art mass customisation means benefiting from the economies of scale while providing a customised, high-quality product to every single customer,” he said.
Kornit Digital makes and markets industrial and commercial printing kit for the garment and textile industries.
Last May, Israel-based Kornit, which has customers in more than 100 countries, souped-up performance of another of its machines, the Allegro roll-to-roll textile printing system, with recirculating print heads from Fuji Dimatix to improve reliability.