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Web-to-print: Much More than a Virtual Storefront

According to the PRIMIR 2012 study “eCommerce & Print Business Models” conducted by InfoTrends, eCommerce sales accounted for about 12% of print revenues in 2011, assuming total printing industry revenue of approximately $150 billion. Sales generated by eCommerce are expected to experience a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.3 percent between 2011 and 2016.

That being said, 50 percent of North American commercial printers have some type of Web-to-print system, reports David Minnick, EFI product manager, Web-to-print.  “There is opportunity there, but from a print supplier’s perspective, you need to get out there,” says Minnick. “You can’t take a back seat or you’ll miss out.”

Tawnya Starr, president of PrinterPresence, agrees. Printers shouldn’t “wait for customers to ask for Web-to-print capabilities,” says Starr. “If print service providers (PSPs) wait for clients to ask for this capability, their competition will have the advantage. Based on our studies of PSP's who are growing and profitable in today's environment, a key differentiator is they use Web-to-print technology as a sales tool, introducing the concept to every client, large and small.” 

Web-to-print, or eCommerce, is not the simple online ordering system of 15 years ago. Evolving from more than just an alternative to more traditional methods of acquiring business, the concept is now an end-to-end system that touches all part of the workflow with as much automation as possible, says Minnick, citing EFI’s Digital StoreFront solution.  This includes everything from online credit card payment order entry, to integration with a MIS system, to automatic status updates emailed to the customer, including shipping and invoicing information, to integration with digital front ends, and finally, to fulfillment.

“You need as much automation as possible,” says Minnick. “Otherwise it becomes too much to manage.”

Of major importance, adds Minnick, is that the Web-to-print solution is cloud-based, especially as businesses and consumers migrate from desktop computers to devices like tablets, which are not meant to store data. These devices also give businesses and consumers great mobility—securing another advantage to implementing a cloud-based, eCommerce workflow.

“Cloud integration in Web-to-print is absolutely critical in moving forward in the B2B environment,” says Minnick.

Keen Systems’ CEO Vitaly M. Golomb sees Web-to-print as providing printers with a pipeline—one online system, for all customer transactions; either the customer sets the process in motion, or the printer does it for the customer. According to Golomb, this reduces errors and customer service overhead, while increasing customer satisfaction and sales efficiency. 

“Don’t consider eCommerce as an add-on, as something extra,” says Golomb. “Regard it as a core competency, as a way to communicate with clients online. The future is moving to doing everything online.”

Developing Relationships

The most basic systems from EFI, Keen Systems, HP Hiflex, PrinterPresence, among others, help printers create private branded storefronts for their customers, which lets “salespeople spend their time developing new relationships, instead of participating in the minutia of managing production,” says Golomb.  “Plus, an advantage for the shop owner is that in this scenario the salespeople don’t own the relationships with their customers; the shop owns it. Even if the salesperson leaves, the customer stays.”

HP Hiflex’s Web-to-print platform is based on an Open Source, a Drupal content management system that allows printers to easily make customized websites, says Daniel Deboyace, marketing manager, HP Hiflex. “Our platform also features customized estimating, so the customer doesn’t just encounter price lists. Our system uses information based on the printer’s actual equipment to estimate. If you are taking in all these orders online, it is a waste of time to estimate each order. Our system can do a pre-estimate, so the customer knows exactly what they are going to pay; the printer doesn’t have to waste his time.”

One of the big issues with Web-to-print in the past, says Golomb, is that it was so expensive, printers had to bill it to the customer. But now there are solutions that are very affordable, so it’s not something printers have to bill as a service. Instead, it becomes a competitive advantage; printers with eCommerce capabilities give their customers a convenient way of placing orders, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At Graph Expo 2012, Keen announced new offerings—Keen Design Studio, Keen Files, and Keen Boost Marketplace, which allows printers to expand their offering to customers by reselling products and services they don’t produce in-house. Expected to go live later in 2013, the upside for printers is that customers won’t see a difference between what is produced in-house or sourced elsewhere. The printer retains control of the order flow and relationships.

“The idea, is to allow printers to create a real hub for their business,” says Golomb. “PSPs can rely on this is the heart of their business; it gives them relationships with all their vendors and customers in a neat nice way.”

This type of multi-partner capability is also a core attribute of HP Hiflex’s Web-to-print platform. “Our solution helps printers function as production partners, allowing printers to offer one-stop shopping capability, even though their actual equipment may be limited,” says Deboyace.

Looking ahead, Web-to-print also is also extending beyond print, to include integration with additional media platforms for cross media marketing campaigns.  Note, for example, EFI’s October acquisition of Online Print Solutions, allowing EFI to integrate OPS’ cross media and variable data solutions into its Digital StoreFront platform and MIS software.

Tips of the Trade

For those looking to implement a Web-to-print workflow, here’s what you need to consider:

  • When developing your eCommerce platform, “create a 360-degree integration,” says Starr. “A well developed website is at the core, which allows for receiving files, incoming jobs/orders, order approval, online proofing, etc. It is critical that the site tie into all aspects of marketing—direct mail, social media, search engines, etc.”
  • Before investing in a system, says Jessica Formosa, director of marketing, Satori Software, “make sure you know how your Web-to-print system will be used, who your audience is, and have your go-to market strategy worked out. Investing in these applications without a complete understanding of how it will be used can result in under-utilization of the system. Do your research to ensure success and a nice ROI.”
  •  “Determine a budget, both monetary and time,” says Starr. “Over investing in a technology and under utilizing it is a recipe for financial loss.”
  • “Understand your business model, look for a Web-to-print solution that fits your business model and will allow you to grow into other markets,” says Minnick.
  • “Simplify your process from start to finish as much as possible; don’t complicate things for the customer,” says Formos. “Begin with limited features and grow the options as needed; make uploading lists easy. Requiring a specific data format may seem like an easy solution, but don’t fall for it. At least provide interactive field mapping. By putting in some initial effort, you can avoid user aggravation that might otherwise drive your customers elsewhere.”
  • When you are new to Web-to-print, don’t start out with a difficult customer, advises Minnick. Instead, choose a customer where things are going well, one that doesn’t require a lot of handholding or is fairly straightforward, especially from an automation standpoint. Use that easier customer to understand your platform, realize the value, and them move ahead to the more difficult. Another benefit of this approach is that it frees up your CSRs to deal with the more difficult customer.
  • Look beyond print to increase your Web-to-print business,” says Minnick. If you are printing a brochure that will be sent to a tradeshow, for example, find out what else the customer needs for that tradeshow. Become the fulfillment partner.
  • Use Web-to-print to sign customers up for multi-year contracts. Leverage the front-end solution your offering to your customers, offering a contract discount. “Use Web-to-print as a value proposition to lock-in a multi year contract,” says Minnick.
  • Don’t wait for the perfect technology to come along, that will do everything you want, says Starr. “If you do, you may be waiting a long time; every day you wait to implement a technology is potentially lost revenue. A recommendation is to use a solution that gets you 70-80 percent of where you want to be.” 

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