By Cassandra Balentine
Ecommerce was booming well before COVID-19 hit, but for many print providers the global pandemic accelerated and exemplified the importance of having a well-executed online strategy in place. Further, those with integrations that enabled remote monitoring and production were in a better position to survive and even thrive over the past 20 months. Web to print (W2P) tools are increasingly important to print service providers (PSPs) of all shapes and sizes. For the purpose of this article we look at trends and challenges from two distinct perspectives—business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) print operations.
Above: Customer’s Canvas is a set of components that can help a business build an ecommerce site or another website involving any sort of design or product personalization.
Many W2P trends in both markets are fueled by challenges and demands from 2020, which Vince Tutino, product management director, Rochester Software Associates, lists as easy ordering and re-ordering—both remotely and onsite; increased customer acceptance of online ordering; and the ability to offer more products and additional colors. However, he points to several features that have become increasing important in the last year for both B2B and B2C, including hosted systems, workflow automation, and security.
Further, Chris Camp, managing director, ePrint, points out that the adoption of distance working, which is likely to remain in place in some form, has given new impetus to the adoption of W2P as email-based workflows crumple under the weight of new demands and user expectations. “With this increased activity coming from many diverse directions the management demand for systems integration with purchasing systems, corporate service gateways, payment services, and document management libraries grows ever stronger.”
B2B Trends & Considerations
B2B-focused print providers demand a number of features and functions, including fast setups and easier integration with existing workflows, shares Alexander de Boissezon, managing director, PIXFIZZ Ltd. These tools help them better align themselves with workplace evolution that happened in response to a global pandemic.
Print providers primarily serving the B2B space look for solutions that are easy to use and implement. “We also receive more requests concerning the possibility to add other types of products on their W2P storefront, such as corporate apparel and promotional objects,” says François Mitchell, president, Prisme Technologies.
“During 2020 and 2021, we experienced a seismic shift in the print industry, and in W2P specifically,” says Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa. More business has gone online and the types of products offered increased dramatically for both the B2B and B2C markets. For the B2B model, this has meant adding non-print items like face masks and shields, sanitizer, and office supplies to the product catalog, a big increase in wide format products, including signage and barriers, and more fulfillment services. “With the lack of large public events and the printed product orders associated with them, smart providers have leveraged their W2P capabilities to new lines of business, and in some cases have added additional W2P platform(s) to meet specific needs.”
“Over the last 18 months, businesses have had to rethink how they do everything and as most people will be aware, so much more of B2B has moved online. This of course pushes a lot of companies to look at how they can sell products online, so in fact the trends for new customers are the basics,” suggests Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP operations, the Americas, RedTie. She feels a W2P system that is easy to use and quick to get up and running is essential.
Vikash Bardia, founder/CEO, Infomaze Elite Pvt Ltd., noticed an overall rise in W2P over the past year. “W2P is no longer a luxury for the end user, it is a necessary requirement.” He says tools like online quoting and ordering, real-time quote comparison capabilities, order status, stock and replenishing options, order approval, and administrative functions are gaining popularity.
Gallucci agrees, noting that while a well-implemented B2B storefront has generally been a key to customer retention, with increased competition from other print providers it’s no longer enough to count on that alone. “Custom branding of the store is essential, but each customer will have specific needs with respect to product offerings and navigation, so the ability to tailor the user experience—for novices versus power users, as one example—is a key to success.” For larger customers, he feels that the ability to tie into their business or procurement system is a requirement.
A decentralized ordering system with centralized printing to match corporate identity and a reduction in wastage and lead time are features Manoj Kotak, founder, Flexi Web to Print, feels are most important to the B2B W2P space.
With more users, particularly franchises and bigger corporations, there is a need for brand as well as product control. “What I mean by this is that in some cases you need to segregate products by user so that certain users only see certain products. In addition, third-party approval is required to ensure personalized items created by the end user meet with the approval of managers,” says Hurwitch.
Another important trend is integration beyond web storefronts. Tony Tarpey, COO, SmartSoft USA, sees increased demand into third-party production and shipping platforms. “This not only includes traditional specialized print storefront software such as PageDNA or Pressero, but also broader ecommerce platforms such as Shopify and Magento. Using an online storefront to get more orders is one thing, but you need to be able to turn around and ship those orders as efficiently as possible,” he explains.
“Integrations streamline the customer experience and reduce manual work. For instance, integrating with a shipping system such as UPS and using the W2P system to email status updates and shipment tracking numbers reduces incoming customer calls and the shop’s need to manually respond to customer questions and input shipping data into multiple systems,” says Tutino.
Single sign-on connection is another feature gaining traction among B2B print providers. Therese McGady, marketing manager, Aleyant, says customers want this automatic login ability for online storefronts. Reporting capabilities are important as well so that customers can better manage their print business. Payment integrations are necessary for a more fully automated print workflow.
“Self-service and user-created content is becoming essential to any successful W2P portal. Printers are done with having to email someone or have to submit a support request to make content, product, or pricing changes for their SKUs,” adds Timothy Madden, M.A., B.A., chief revenue officer, Amazing Print Tech Inc.
An automated or efficient workflow pays in spades.
Every economic crisis places tough obstacles in front of businesses. In times of uncertainty, Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas by Aurigma, believes those who work more efficiently than the competition, and therefore have a greater margin of safety, survive. “If we attempt to reduce all the benefits of W2P for print buyers down to one word, it would be efficiency. Using W2P saves time when ordering marketing materials as well as any other print products while guaranteeing a high-quality final result. On top of that, private B2B storefronts help control marketing costs because companies that order print products online get an advantage over their competitors. It is also worth noting that customers prefer to shift to smaller print runs during uncertain conditions. The advantages of W2P become clearer in this type of environment.”
Print shop owners and their customers want a seamless and touchless print workflow from order placement to delivery. McGady explains that customers can easily set up business card templates online and then quickly create press-ready and imposition-ready files, which is a huge timesaver.
“Workflow automation capabilities streamline production, reduce costs and touches, and offer a user experience that is fast and efficient. In-application communication and collaboration features let customers and the print shop work together on projects and changes without leaving the software to use other less efficient communication channels like email, while retaining an auditable and consistent record of the interactions in the application,” says Tutino.
The demands of B2B customers relate directly to the benefits they can get from their W2P procurement process. “There is a notable increase in the quality of the final print run with reduced transaction costs for its approval. A nice bonus is the transparency of purchases and the ability to control budgets for different company divisions. The main task for printing companies is to convince their customers that it is possible to achieve all of these things with W2P. To do so, you must organize a convenient workflow and easy access to corporate templates. After all, the biggest thing holding potential customers back is the fear of trying something new. If the B2B storefront is intuitive and the benefits of using the technology are clear, then these fears are easier to dispel,” offers Sevostyanov.
Learning how to shift the mindset in sales can also make a big difference when it comes to a successful W2P strategy in an B2B environment.
When starting down a new avenue of marketing, it is important to have access to experts in the field of selling online. “The software is only the tool, the real value is added when your software supplier also understands your business and moving it online,” adds Hurwitch. “The biggest trend is therefore business owners knowing that they have to get at least part of their sales online. They have to be able to deal with their customers remotely and effectively. It is also a time where their customers more than ever expect to be able to do that too. This trend has to be seen as an opportunity, printers understanding they have to do it, customers wanting it to happen, and the tools available to make it happen.”
“One little secret in our industry, small office users are extremely expensive to recruit as new customers, and don’t order very often or very much. They are also fickle and will switch vendors over a few pennies. So, where is the money, if this is true? The answer is—the money is found in the seven million small U.S. businesses who do have a brand, and deserve more than a generic B2C storefront. Our most savvy customers use their B2C storefront to find new mid-sized B2B customers and then convert them into B2B customers,” shares Steve Enstad, co-founder/president, PageDNA.
On the infrastructure side, Madden says securing customer data and order flow is becoming a greater priority in the current age of cyber attacks. “With the news that Google Chrome is orphaning the cookie as a tracking mechanism, W2P vendors need to move to session-based tracking to secure, store, and protect customers’ artwork, proofs, and payment information,” he offers.
Security is an ever-increasing concern for customers. “Any software buyer not concerned or vigilant about security is potentially opening themselves and their organization to an attack or breach and risking serious consequences,” says Tutino.
While the needs of B2B and B2C print providers overlap in some areas of W2P, there are distinct considerations. For B2C the goal is to expand on what is already built and stand out online.
“The situation is somewhat different for B2C compared to B2B,” says Sevostyanov. “The pandemic has obviously been a catalyst for ecommerce. Even if the world fully returns to pre-pandemic conditions, people will continue to order online because they appreciate the convenience.”
Camp says one major trend in B2C W2P is the expanding variety of products that can be personalized online. “As businesses seek out niches, they offer new products along with additional ways to personalize them. Modern W2P technology makes it possible to implement personalization scenarios that once were impossible.”
“Customers are seeking everything from customized car wraps to posters and personalized gifts,” offers Madden. “Apparel is growing in leaps and bounds, and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.7 percent between 2021 and 2028, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic taught shoppers to be comfortable to search, customize, and purchase fashionable casual wear for remote work.”
With celebrations such as birthdays and graduations becoming virtual, the consumer market for signage, banners, and the like increased dramatically, in some cases providing print providers with a new line of business, comments Gallucci. There’s also been spikes for art and photography printing, attire, and other specialty products as people spent more time at home and less time shopping or traveling.
“The availability of W2P plugins for platforms like Shopify and WordPress is also helping to shift the B2C landscape by allowing smaller players to create niche W2P stores,” he predicts.
It is also important to note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many B2B customers migrated to B2C to make up for lost revenue. Bardia says these customers are looking for customized products and orders benefit from automation.
Tarpey points out that print providers need ways to get online orders through their shop and shipped as quickly and cost effectively as possible, with as few manual touches as possible. “This means they want their various software packages to be able to communicate with each other so order information can flow through the shop without the need for multiple places of data entry.”
The user experience must be top notch, including confirmation and tracking capabilities in addition to order entry. “People who purchase goods online want to receive an order confirmation, which lets them know their order has been received. In addition, they want to know when their items have shipped. This gives the end user the confidence that their order is with the vendor and expectations met that an order has been shipped. As I mentioned previously, ease of use if a big factor. Too many screens to go through before making a purchase and you may lose the customer,” offers Hurwitch.
Consumers want products with options that allow them to make changes to the artwork/graphic design that will be printed. “With varying levels of customizable options and the ability to provide options to the B2C users to maintain their own gallery of images along with the stock gallery,” says Bardia. To succeed on the print provider end, it helps to automate the process as much as possible. He notes a rise in demand to integrate B2C storefronts with supplier chains/distribution networks, especially when it comes to apparel and promotional products. Using APIs and Webhooks, orders can flow from a B2C site to supplier sites who fulfill an order.
Madden also believes device agnosticism is becoming essential. “Customers need to design and order products from their smart devices as well as their desktop. The explosion in social media during the pandemic has seen exponential growth for printers who have integrated social media print models into their offering.”
“It is impossible to ignore the growing trend of customers using their mobile devices for online shopping, so printers should pay special attention to making storefronts responsive,” adds Sevostyanov.
Reuben Ben Quesus, director of business development, W2P Solutions, Racad Tech, feels mobility is increasingly essential and there have been drastic shifts in website visitors coming in from mobile so it is essential that B2C has the capabilities to allow customers to interact with mobile.
Tutino says that from a W2P standpoint, it’s important that the system is built with security in mind from the product’s development to its implementation for the customer—server security and configuration.
Another consideration is search engine optimization (SEO) offerings. “The easier you are found, the more sales you will have,” shares McGady.
“Packaged services that include B2C storefronts and SEO services are on the rise. Newer prospects are not just looking for B2C platforms with SEO features but are also looking for SEO services reducing the burden to coordinate between two different providers separate for B2C and SEO,” says Bardia.
de Boissezon also sees increased demand for help with sales, including content marketing and SEO.
“Very often in B2C you don’t have a relationship, the customers know what they want and printers don’t,” shares Ben Quesus. “So you need to make sure you offer the right mix of tools to allow customers to either upload their original documents or design it online with a fair amount of flexibility. Or, provide them an intuitive workflow that will not overwhelm them in achieving their vision.”
Commercial printers need to know how to sell the value of the online ordering system to the customer, from the customer’s point of view. Enstad says PSPs have long had a view of W2P systems from the printer’s perspective; namely how this lowers costs for the printer while increasing print volume? They need to get out of the print shop and into the minds of their corporate customers, for whom time literally is money.
“End user corporate customers will always gravitate to whichever PSP makes their lives easier—no matter how friendly you are or how long you’ve served them. As examples of this trend, we commonly support our commercial printers in sales discussions about security, cost center verification, budget control and spend management, approval processes, and other workflow considerations. These discussions have nothing to do with the traditional print production print challenges or workflow for the printer, yet they everything to do with the customers’ pain and supply chain needs. If you don’t know how to speak this language, you need a W2P who can join you to help you build this skill set.”
SEO, advertising, and user experience are major factors in the B2C space. “Getting found on the web by prospects is the only way to gain new customers, and SEO and analytics-backed advertising are essential. The UX requirements in this market are different—the site must be visually attractive, and ease of use is paramount,” shares Gallucci.
An online presence is essential for today’s print businesses. The expectations for clients to be able to do more online isn’t waning and if anything has been further propelled by the events of 2020.
For more information on this topic, check out an archived webinar on the topic at dpsmagazine.com/webinar
Oct2021, DPS Magazine