By Cassandra Balentine
The storefront is a critical element of many web-to-print (W2P) solutions, which is further brought to light as the COVID-19 pandemic forces consumers and businesses alike to adapt the ways in which they do business.
Above: EFI MarketDirect StoreFront allows for customizable storefronts.
It is important that print providers thoroughly investigate the options available and make an informed decision on whether to add or upgrade their ecommerce strategies. “It can be a daunting task to review all the options available, so purchasers must be diligent in knowing the features they require,” admits Glenn Bailey, VP, technology, Mediawide.
Gil Newsom, managing director, RocketPrint Software, points out that robust quoting engines, easy to setup storefronts, and reporting are desired traits in a W2P storefront.
B2C and B2B
It is important to consider the audience when implementing or updating an ecommerce strategy. For business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) print providers, the solution—and urgency—may look different.
Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas by Aurigma Inc., explains that online storefronts are either public or private. “Public storefronts are fully available to anyone with an internet connection and make a straightforward ordering process possible for non-regular clients. This type of storefront is the best fit for B2C use cases. On the other hand, private storefronts are best suited for B2B customers. This is a separate and secure portal that simplifies bulk order management for both clients and sales staff. Such portals might have dedicated templates and design assets for each customer as well as tailored workflows for repeat orders.”
Requirements and strategy vary between B2B and B2C. Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa, says if the intent is to include both, it’s important to partner with a W2P solution that not only supports each but has features to help optimize success for the different sales models.
“The B2B model can be a very profitable one,” continues Gallucci. When well implemented it solidifies the customer relationship and encourages repeat and new business from the same client. “The B2B model provides a captive audience with more predictable sales than B2C, and since the print provider is offering convenience and value to the B2B client, it can leverage this into expanding the business or even charging a monthly fee for the W2P service. Additionally, since B2B is a private environment, there is no requirement to advertise it or incorporate SEO into the websites.”
For B2C, W2P helps expand the reach and customer base, and may be simpler to set up since there are no specific customer-mandated requirements. “Profitability of commodity print products may be less than in the B2B model due to price pressure, but the enhanced customer experience will lead to repeat orders. For printers that offer unique or unusual products or finishing capabilities not available from low-priced competitors, there is tremendous potential opportunity. Success in the B2C space will depend on getting the word out, through advertising, SEO, and promotional campaigns, and having a user-friendly interface for novice print buyers,” adds Gallucci.
He points out that B2B orders will typically be invoiced, while B2C orders will have payment processed at the time of order. A W2P platform that supports a variety of payment gateways will ease the implementation of online payment.
Aaron Tavakoli, senior segment marketing manager, EFI Productivity Software, believes B2B customers want assimilation between the web properties and systems they use every day and their online ordering portals. “They want a common experience when they move from one system to another. They don’t want to have to re-authenticate, and they want to ensure that their branding elements and guidelines are maintained, even when they want to customize documents and materials.”
On the other hand, B2C customers want very clear, simple, and intuitive product configuration options. “They want to be able to customize and build documents online in real time and see the pricing adjust as they make changes. They also want online proofing to give them the confidence that what they are ordering is what they are going to get,” adds Tavakoli.
Integration for the Win
The ability to connect with other solutions is increasingly important as expectations from B2B and B2C customers alike advance. Common integrations of W2P storefronts include MIS, payment gateways, and shipping providers.
“Integration abilities are essential to give customers the maximum leverage with their ordering process. It not only optimizes their online W2P storefront, but also maximizes the overall system of operations and sales,” adds Newsom.
“No single solution can be everything to everyone, despite the fact that people will try to convince you of that,” says Reuben Quesus, director of business development, Racad Tech. “It may have a lot of what you need but what happens when they don’t? You want to make sure that the W2P provider you select will play well with others and will be willing to cooperate with other providers to give you the solution you need.”
Adam Witek, director of customer experience, PrintReach, LLC., cautions against solutions that do not support two-way integration with MIS systems, as it will not be scalable long term. “It’s critical you find a product with a strong API and a company who is flexible to add more to it.”
Tavakoli believes integration is critical. “Integration can create a significant advantage in terms of throughput time, eliminating mistakes, and ultimately reducing margins and improving profit. Often, integration is the way a printing company becomes a one-stop shop for print and marketing services. Businesses can produce a larger range of work—not just a few—high-margin specialties. Most printing companies’ need and buy business cards, for example. But, without W2P integration those jobs may be unprofitable for a printing company to offer to its clients.”
Well-executed integration reduces touchpoints and potential errors, and facilitates production automation. Gallucci says platforms that offer integrations to workflow, accounting, and shipping increase efficiency and profitability.
Steve Ciesemier, direct sales manager, Aleyant, agrees, noting that integration capabilities reduce or eliminate the need to manually move data and jobs, which is slow and prohibits efficiency, error-prone, and expensive due to the labor needed.
On the other hand, Sevostyanov believes the necessity for integration depends on the internal workflows and the kind of automation printers want to achieve. “For example, if a W2P storefront is planned as a standalone entity, then there is no need for robust integration capabilities.
However, if some sort of automation is already in place, then the ability to connect an ecommerce module with production might be a good idea. An ideal W2P solution must have an API to provide good integration capabilities. On top of that, pre-configured integrations with popular third-party services come in handy if you want to avoid spending additional resources on programming,” he comments.
Technology continues to advance and along with it, user expectations. One of these is mobility. This is essential for many B2C W2P storefronts, and helpful for some B2B.
Mobile ordering capabilities are increasingly important. “The amount of time people spend on their phones is surmounting the amount of time people spent on their desktops. So smartphone accessibility and website responsiveness are of paramount importance,” says Quesus. However, he says he wouldn’t go as far as to say mobile applications are essential.
Newsom adds that most people operate their entire lives through their mobile devices, so it creates quick, efficient sales. “For B2B, mobile ordering is important, but not a priority. Most companies and organizations operate off of their own networks, which are typically not mobile friendly.”
Sevostyanov says there’s no doubt that mobile platforms are already huge for ecommerce and it only plays a greater role as time goes on. “For now, this applies more to B2C applications, which have more use cases where ordering from smartphones and tablets is popular. Uploading images from these devices to create and order a memorable gift is a good example. Such orders are often impulsive, so reducing the obstacles between the intent to buy and the opportunity to make the order increases the probability of the customer making a purchase. Ensuring that an online editor is mobile ready means that printers must invest in an additional interface that takes the limitations of smaller screens and touch-based input into consideration. This is often only achievable through a custom W2P project.”
Consumers are used to a way of life that provides the convenience of ordering online from any device, at a good price, with next- or even same-day delivery. To help accommodate these demands, Ciesemier says print providers need a W2P platform that supports responsive design.
Vince Tutino, product management director, Rochester Software Associates, cautions that while mobile ordering is important in today’s world, some capabilities can get lost if the form factor is too small. “Previewing a document layout is easier and a better experience with a larger form factor device such as a tablet or PC.”
Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP of operations, The Americas, RedTie, agrees, noting that it is imperative to be able to order from a tablet, but for users trying to personalize print material from a phone, it will be difficult even if the software is responsive. “Why? Small screen! Personally, I find it easier to place an order—any order—on a tablet or a laptop. Entering information into a very small screen, for me, leads to the potential of too many mistakes,” she shares.
Witek breaks it down, noting that about 18 percent of B2B storefront traffic comes from mobile devices as opposed to B2C storefronts where we see about 44 percent. “However, if you’re your current W2P vendor doesn’t have responsive websites by now, I’d caution you that they might be neglecting their product,” he comments.
W2P Storefront Advantages
Convince is king, and W2P provides this. The opportunity for added revenue, repeat customers and orders, as well as automation are top advantages.
Many benefits stem from a well implemented web storefront, not least of which is having an additional tool for developing new business and staying competitive. “You can see increased productivity by reducing the back-and-forth time spent quoting/requoting jobs as well as more efficient proofing and approval processes. This allows you to process more orders with existing resources. Plus, if your system allows for online orders to flow directly to production, you are going to minimize turnaround times for your customers,” says Tony Tarpey, COO, PressWise by SmartSoft.
W2P storefronts catalog all the items that consumers frequently require to do business. “It saves the consumer time from having to search where his/her designs are and allows them the flexibility to modify them without the need to bother a graphic designer. It also keeps track of their spending and can set limits so spending is controlled and accounted,” explains Quesus.
Steven Antoni, president, CloudLab Americas, CloudLab Solutions, adds that storefronts are meant to encourage buyers to keep browsing the store until they find the right product that fits their needs. “It is also an opportunity to inform the buyer about new technologies and capabilities that are available. Template galleries can jumpstart the design creativity, moving a client towards a sale.”
“When successfully implemented, W2P helps to cement the relationship with existing customers, expand opportunities for client acquisition, and facilitate growth into new product lines and new markets,” offers Gallucci.
Bailey believes the most significant advantage to W2P storefronts is getting the Generation Zs to use your solutions. Generation Z is online first, followed closely by Millennials; they don’t like manual processes and want everything done online. “Without the W2P storefront, a lot of prospective clients will simply overlook your offerings.”
For the print provider, it offers 24/7 presence without the need for human intervention. “It allows for automation on other levels, such as proofing right online all of the variable data entered and getting approvals for that without the back and forth by courier,” says Hurwitch.
Tutino suggests that for in-plants, a W2P storefront may also have production workflow capabilities that streamline the production process and result in faster turnaround times, fewer errors, and higher customer satisfaction.
Witek says it is the automation that many shops are looking for. “When we look at all the touch points a shop is taking to get an order processed and out the door, most of them happen before the job gets into production. W2P storefronts save you time.”
With Benefits Come Challenges
While the advantages W2P storefronts offer are clear, we can’t be too quick to leave out challenges.
“The storefront itself is just a tool. The real challenge comes with putting the appropriate research and time into setting up your storefront based on the needs of your customers and target audience,” shares Tarpey. He says print providers need to interact with their customers and find out what they would like to see in an online ordering system, and what would make them use it.
Implementation and integration also stand out as hindrances to deploying and setting up W2P and can pose a serious challenge for printers. “Big projects not only demand big investments but are also very sensitive to the quality of programming resources, whether they are in-house or outsourced. Once the project is finished, the challenge is to operate the integration to keep it up and running. Complex W2P integrations require constant updates and maintenance. On top of all the coding and maintenance, the online marketing strategy could be another point of weakness. Failing to attract customers online might ruin the project just as much as the potential technical issues,” says Sevostyanov.
“Technology is always a challenge for some PSPs; therefore, a SaaS solution is best for these users,” believes Bailey. He says having a fully managed solution where technical support is handled outside the company is more effective than hiring a technical wizard to take care of the servers required for this type of solution.
Additionally, Witek says some vendors, like PrintReach, help build storefronts on behalf of customers because many shops simply do not have the time or in-house technical abilities to deploy storefronts quickly.
Newsom admits that onboarding new customers can be a challenge.
Antoni agrees, noting that there is sometimes the fear that the existing client base just won’t use the online store. “This might be true for some print clients, but that group will continue to shrink as the workforce demographics change. The pandemic has opened the floodgates and driven more people online in search for products and services,” he comments.
Hurwitch admits that the drawbacks aren’t necessarily the software itself, but the buy-in by the print provider’s sales staff who may feel that the human touch is what makes or breaks an order. “The buy in has to come from the top down and be communicated to all of the staff.”
Overall, the challenges of using a W2P system are not any greater than any other piece of software a shop uses, and Tutino believes the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks of not using a W2P system.
Many W2P storefront options are available for print providers, whether they serve B2B, B2C, or both types of customers.
“Ample choice empowers printers to select the option that best fits their online strategy,” shares Sevostyanov. While an out-of-the-box W2P ecommerce solution is a solid choice for standard use cases, clients might need a more flexible solution for sophisticated scenarios that includes a separate configurable W2P module that integrates with an ecommerce platform and any existing automation.
While there are many advantages to a W2P storefront, adding or updating your ecommerce strategy successfully requires consideration and planning. dps
Oct2020, DPS Magazine