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What Kind Of Print To Offer Via Web-to-Print And Who To Offer It To

This article discusses the type of print work that is best suited to web-to-print online selling and which customers to promote the service to. In addition to explaining the technical needs and internal championing issues that print e-commerce requires, it is critical that printers define clearly the business model that the online sales portal is intended to support and that they market the new service appropriately.

Web-to-print (W2P) is most applicable to general commercial digital and wide-format production where there are many short-run jobs. In this environment, job acquisition and management account for a relatively higher proportion of total production costs, while machine time and consumables may be relatively small contributors. Quite apart from the value of the convenience to customers, automating these job management processes through integrated W2P may well bring greater improvements in overall efficiency than investing in a faster RIP or printer.

W2P is a natural partner for variable data printing (VDP), whether at the simple business card and stationery level or in high-end one-to-one personalised marketing campaigns. An often-overlooked benefit of template-based W2P production of any kind is that it enforces style and branding guidelines in a way that disparate users within large organisations or multiple external agencies often do not.

Larger print service providers, especially those with both offset and digital presses, often focus on automated production via MIS and sophisticated prepress workflows with advanced pre-flighting and soft-proofing capabilities, so integrating W2P to further exploit these capabilities is a logical progression for them.

Set the business goals:

When embarking on a W2P installation, some fundamental questions must be answered. W2P should be viewed as much as a sales tool as a production one, so printers need to decide what percentage of the business they are aiming to acquire this way. What type of customers and what type of work are they looking to attract? How will those sales be supported? What marketing will be done?

Printers should start by reviewing their current work to assess how much is reprint, stock call-off or minor updates to existing pieces, all of which are ideal candidates for W2P ordering. The potential value of simple template-based jobs, such as product brochures with local dealer/agent personalisation, or the ubiquitous business cards and stationery, should not be underestimated, especially as this kind of work can be ganged and used to fill press capacity during idle periods. It may also be worth investigating partnering opportunities, sharing a W2P portal and its costs with other print services providers whose facilities and expertise are complementary.

If taking in ad-hoc work via an online portal is being contemplated, there will need to be an automated pre-flighting capability that identifies problems and ideally is able to fix them too, or at least ensures that a 'customer accepts responsibility' check box is ticked before proceeding. With regular business-to-business customers, or where there is adequate margin, existing pre-flighting and job preparation process can continue to be used.

Win existing customers first:

Before attempting to win new business via W2P it's logical to introduce it to existing customers as an alternative way of working that expands their choices and offers greater convenience, perhaps beginning with simple stock item ordering. Key to this is giving customers a familiar ordering environment, possibly branded to the customer, and as simple an ordering experience as possible.

Younger print buyers may know less about print production than their predecessors but they are very familiar with online ordering and will expect similar convenience. Less technically confident customers may appreciate a guided ordering option, perhaps free of charge as an initial inducement to use W2P, or via a differently-priced menu. The guided ordering option is also potentially an opportunity to demonstrate some of the 'hidden' extra work that otherwise goes unnoticed by the customer and often unbilled by the printer.

Over time, as both printer and customers gain experience and confidence, more complex options can be offered. Stock or catalogue-based ordering could be complemented by fulfilment and non-print items, for example. The ability to accept ad-hoc work via W2P - backed by suitable pre-flighting and soft-proofing as discussed above - may help win new customers, especially in specialist or niche applications.

When planning for the costs of a W2P implementation, it's useful to compare them with the cost of adding sales staff, bearing in mind that W2P should also free existing staff to pursue work of higher value, and once implemented, automation will offer new opportunities to develop the business. Well-implemented W2P does not just reduce costs and increase productivity for the printerFind Article, it is also a 'customer binding' tool that makes it easier for customers to continue to place work than to take it elsewhere.

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This article is an extract from 'Making web-to-print work', a free white paper from EFI written by UK technology writer Michael Walker that outlines the mistakes made by early web-to-print users and explains how this experience can be used to ensure that current implementations maximise the potential of online sales and job capture through automation and integration.

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