By Cassandra Balentine
For print providers, making a dollar is often hard work. It’s a competitive landscape with ever-evolving technology. Staying on top of the latest trends is important. For consumer-facing print businesses, customers expect an Amazon.com experience when shopping online; and for business-to-business (B2B) providers, clients want a value-added experience that they don’t have to think too much about. Meeting these demands is no easy feat; however, tools like web-to-print (W2P) can help.
For print service providers (PSPs), ecommerce tools bring advantages to each step of the customer experience—discovery, ordering, and repeat business. “Essentially, ecommerce and W2P help bring in more customers, increase the probability that they will make a purchase, and keep them coming back when they decide to make another order,” says Dmitry Sevostyanov, CEO, Customer’s Canvas by Aurigma Inc.
Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa Graphics, feels W2P is an essential requirement for print providers in almost all market segments. However, it’s important to recognize that it takes more than just web presence to gain new customers. “They keys to success include reaching new prospects and convincing them to place an order,” he offers.
Above: XMPie offers the PersonalEffect StoreFlow v.10, an all-in-one W2P solution for launching ecommerce sites and marketing portals.
Leveraging the Web
PSPs leverage the web to create an ecommerce strategy that complements existing operations. To best serve the market and the bottom line, many PSPs benefit from online ordering and print automation.
Austin Wyman, marketing director, Propago, suggests ecommerce is a broad term. Even narrowed down to the world of print, it can refer to a lot of different things. “One way to boil it down is to say that ecommerce is simply a fact of the modern world. Customers in virtually every market expect fast, easy, flexible service that’s accessible from anywhere.”
To acquire new business they must offer online ordering and have a method of print automation in place. “For the most part they’re excited to have these tools,” shares Corry Casler, executive sales director, PressWise by SmartSoft.
Running a print business and ignoring the web is uncommon today. “However, printers that rely on existing customers may still pay little to no attention to their online presence. In 2019, the absence of an online business presence may as well be the same as no presence at all for new customers,” comments Sevostyanov.
To leverage the web, PSPs have a lot to consider. Steve Ciesemier, district sales manager, Aleyant, feels it’s about consolidating reach within a geographic area that requires an enhanced marketing strategy via search engine optimization (SEO) and Google AdWords for business to consumer and retail stores. “PSPs need to structure their online presence specifically for a specialty product or online market/vertical, or a specific region with different online storefronts for each.”
“Ecommerce solutions extend the capabilities of the existing marketing SEO/search engine marketing websites and allow clients and prospects to not only browse products, but customize, design, and buy online—helping them respond to the market quickly and efficiently,” says Steven Antoni, president, Americas, Cloudlab Solutions.
“It’s all about the traffic,” offers Niro Barom, sales channel manager, B2C Print. “Facebook and Instagram are the strongest marketing tools today, so a weekly post can increase the number of followers and business exposure.”
Ellen Faith Hurwitch, VP, operations, the Americas, RedTie, feels PSPs are still not leveraging the web enough. “Many are still tied into the relationship sales model. The new buyers today are more comfortable having a relationship with their computers than a face to face with a human,” she comments.
Erik Holdo, VP, graphic communications and industrial print, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. Inc., believes the industry is all over the map, with some creating beautiful and well thought out experiences that leverage customer familiarity and preferences into a seamless occurrence. However, many others only provide an FTP site and a contact form. “I find it hard to believe that those in that state of innovation—or lack thereof—have derived a single penny of revenue from their web presence,” he admits.
Morrie Brown, president, PrintPoint, Inc., believes that while the web and W2P tools have existed for some time, the birth of “Web 3.0” is a game changer. It is composed of artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms, and purchase prediction and print providers need to take advantage of these technologies. “While selling print products on the web remains a critical focus of print providers, the new web interlaces AI and purchase prediction. Customers want websites to think for them,” he explains. “It’s now up to print providers to build in AI that will predict ancillary purchases. Sure, a buyer came to the website for business cards. Why not suggest a complete business package? They should be offered letterhead and envelopes at a discounted price. The site should automatically display personalized samples so that the buyer is hard pressed to turn away. The result is a print provider supplying more products to a user who had no intention of purchasing them in the first place.”
In the last few years, PSPs have successfully leveraged the benefits of W2P solutions through omni-channel platforms to distribute content. “They have vastly invested in technologies and processes to reduce production costs, strengthen customer relationships, and increase profitability for production volumes,” shares Ravi Dugal, president, mediawide.
The procurement landscape has also changed, says Kelvin Bell, sales director, vPress. “Printers can engage with clients to a greater level in a more automated and 24/7 capacity by utilizing W2P. Effective W2P is the open-all-hours engagement point for the modern print business. Printers are now waking up to the fact that both B2B and business to consumer (B2C) buyers have the run of the market and want to order print when they want it, not only when the print shop is open.”
On the plus side, W2P is a naturally sticky undertaking, comments Josie Stein, manager, marketing and communications, XMPie. “By offering online ordering, you’re turning your business into an indispensable part of your client’s workflow.” Additionally, offering personalized products online can be a differentiator that brings in new business, as is other products like personalized labels and packaging, email communications, or event omni-channel campaigns where the print buyer can select, customize, order, execute, and track multi-touch point campaigns directly from the storefront.”
Vince Tutino, senior product manager, Rochester Software Associates, offers a unique perspective as his company almost exclusively works with in-plants. “Marketing the print center’s online ordering is a key element to demonstrate to customers that it is there to provide a service that will let customers quickly and easily submit print requests and get specialized services from a staff that knows and shares its goals. Because the in-plant also has access to delivery services and sometimes is part of the mailing room, it is positioned to offer services in addition to printing. W2P tools coupled with the in-plant’s reach inside an organization are leveraged to provide a level of service that can only be provided from an inside department,” he explains.
A properly implemented W2P solution improves the experience for both print provider and customer in B2B as well as B2C environments.
Customers want a professional-looking product to help them reach their goals or solve a specific business challenge. At the same time, they would like to avoid time-consuming email correspondence discussing the design process. “The perfect ordering process should be as easy as grabbing a pair of shoes from Amazon. That’s what customers expect and that’s the direction W2P is headed,” shares Sevostyanov.
W2P tools help improve existing customer experience by lowering the overhead cost of handling orders, which means competitive prices for their customers. “It also helps to remove the risk of file errors as well as the chance of human error in proofing. W2P tools provide real-time previews to the end users that give them the ability to ensure their products are as they want them—thereby providing confidence to complete the order,” says Marion Duchesne, founder/CEO, MediaClip.
Casler points out that it used to be the case where PSPs could only offer storefronts to the highest value clients. “With improvements in software technology, printers can immediately launch a customer portal for every client, regardless of the size of the customer.”
Ciesemier feels that like ATMs, print providers use online storefronts for enhanced customer convenience, providing 24/7 service from anywhere, as well as repeat orders, access via mobile, and the ability to review job status online as well as the ability to instantly get a price.
Gallucci adds that providing integrated personalized assistance through chat or web-to-phone links is essential to customer satisfaction. Enabling a client to browse or search order history with previews encourages reorders. Systems that reward loyalty by generating custom discount codes are appreciated by clients and also encourage new orders. “The ability of an online store to suggest related products or reorders enhances the customer experience without upsell pressure,” he says.
According to Holdo, the best PSPs utilize W2P tools to offer a soft proof of the complete document or item, complete with binding; folds; and even embellishments such as foil, spot, or textured UV; and die cuts. “They frequently leverage known preferences or past order history to refine the experience and recommend other products that may be adjacent to the request.”
W2P brings many benefits to the customer experience. Hurwitch points out that while all customers benefit from the convenience of the web and ordering what they want when they want it, when it comes to really improving customer experience you have to know what issues customers are facing and solve those. “It might be brand protection, order approval processes, or credit control,” she suggests.
While W2P brings many benefits to a print operation, there are also challenges. One of the biggest issues is tackling such an undertaking.
Print providers may experience or anticipate challenges associated with W2P, including the lack of merchandising capacity on proprietary platforms; difficulty with technical integrations with websites, APIs, or multiple products that route and track the cost of shipping; and efficiently handling worldwide coverage of services, according to Duchesne.
“W2P implementation is often an overwhelming prospect for a company,” says Stein. She adds that many PSPs think their existing workflow is performing fine, so why change it. “It’s a big challenge for people to realize that change is necessary and the move to W2P isn’t about modernizing a print ordering workflow, it’s about offering customer’s high-value applications. It’s a critical investment to building a successful and growing print business.”
Hurwitch adds that most printers are one or two generations removed from being totally familiar with modern technology. “They may not feel comfortable with new software. Some W2P software systems require knowledge of coding or are complicated to set up in house. This creates additional fears and the tendency to shy away from using something that can be so advantageous.”
Another problem can be the lack of in-house support, meaning, a PSP may buy the software but not have a dedicated personnel internally to take ownership of creating the storefronts, says Hurwitch.
Tutino agrees, noting that making the resources available to implement W2P is often a challenge. “Without this commitment, deploying the solution and all of its features is difficult as the internal culture must adapt to the new way to operate.”
Ciesemier feels like the biggest issue is getting the storefront set up and ready for business. “Specifically for retail, a big challenge is defining your online strategy, internal staff resistance, training, and adoption of W2P. For B2B private storefronts, one of the biggest challenges is getting the sales team to look for opportunities and selling those to your customers.”
Having the right team is vital. The two things RedTie promotes are team selling and solution selling. Solution selling is often a big change for sales teams accustom to pushing products. “The goal here is to listen to your customer, find out their problems, and solve them. The bigger the problems you solve the stronger your relationship with the customer will become,” says Hurwitch.
Barom feels the biggest challenge is keeping up with the technology.
It is important to learn how to identify and prove how W2P functionality affects the production workflow of a business. “The inability to change to online deeply affects efficiency. Historic factors like technology, cost, and knowledge are almost eradicated as the market has opened up and cloud-based solutions have become the norm,” shares Bell.
Choosing the partner with the right technology to deliver the online experience is of utmost importance. “The online store has to provide the right tools and features, be fast and reliable, and stay ahead of the curve with the latest trends and technologies,” shares Antoni.
Customer expectations continue to increase, and therefore PSPs must be cognizant of W2P’s ease of use. “Base user experience can result in low conversion rates and wasting the market budget. Modern W2P solutions offer flexible interfaces that are configured depending on the ordering workflow and can provide customers with a realistic three-dimensional preview that convinces them to place an order, especially for tangible products,” says Sevostyanov.
Casler admits that storefronts aren’t always the right option. Knowing when to say no to a storefront project is a challenge. “Some projects are better handled by your employees who know the nuances of a complex job,” she shares. Additionally, remember the importance of the relationship. “Just because you move a client to a W2P storefront, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop talking to them and lose that personal connection.”
Many PSPs already operate some form of W2P or print automation. However, even those with robust capabilities should consider if they are utilizing these tools effectively and determine if they can benefit from the latest technologies.
Gallucci points out that many print providers already have one or more W2P system and are in the market for another to meet specific client needs. “The key takeaway here is that no one W2P platform will do everything for everyone. All offer similar basic functionality, but feature sets for the buyer and for internal integration vary widely. Making the right choice requires a business plan with well-defined goals and thorough understanding of client needs, production capabilities and limitations, and anticipation for future growth.
Dugal says print providers should have a clear, strategic plan to ensure maximum return on investment when implementing W2P.
When reviewing a W2P setup, Casler says it’s important to find out what happens to an order after it’s placed on the storefront. “If you’ve found the latest, slick, ecommerce platform but it sends you an email when the order is placed, it’s worthless. Ecommerce orders need to automatically inject into your print MIS system, generate job tickets, impose the art, and push the job to press. Otherwise, you’re creating a bottleneck as soon as the order comes in,” she offers.
Wyman says print providers should ask themselves what kind of customer they want to gain with ecommerce. “The answer to that question is likely going to affect what that ecommerce strategy needs to look like.”
It is essential to have a plan along with the right internal team and provider. “The business plan might be obvious, although you would be surprised how just this bit will put you ahead of the competition,” says Hurwitch. PSPs should initially determine what market they want to focus on, either a B2C retail storefront or B2B private storefront for repeat customers. Ciesemier says they must also determine the point person for W2P implementation and ongoing maintenance.
Antoni suggests PSP focus on a narrow product offering that fits their market and equipment profile. “If re-evaluating, identify the weaknesses in the current strategy, interview clients, research abandoned carts for any trends, and research the online offering of competitors to help build a strategy for success.”
It is essential to choose a trusted provider with a sustainable business. “PSPs must include questions about data security and integration into MIS for production. ERP/CRM for client integration is essential if the solution is going to grow with them. They should also ascertain whether the provider is a reseller or a true provider, as this may have an impact on the chain of communication if you look for bespoke development at a later stage,” shares Bell.
Reuben Ben Quesus, director of business development, Racad Tech, suggests asking to see active customer websites when narrowing down vendor options for W2P. “I would even go so far as to present the W2P provider with a difficult product and see if they can make it work for you.”
For those reevaluating their W2P needs, it is a good idea to review areas that may be lacking in the current setup. “We often see operations that have reached user and workflow limits,” says Tutino. He explains that some systems don’t have the ability to offer printing automation or print directly to printers, which requires operations staff to ticket every job manually.
Barom feels it is important to have an advertising budget plan and stable ecommerce provider with market experience.
Efficient and Effective
An ecommerce strategy improves on modern PSPs’ existing customer experiences and attracts new business. Implementing a W2P solution can be a big undertaking, but comes with great reward. It is important to evaluate current and future needs and the end customer when building an online presence.
Oct2019, DPS Magazine