Why Aren't More Printers Using Web-to-Print?
Web-to-print (W2P) has been heavily promoted for several years but uptake is still lower than might be expected, especially in the wide-format sector. Many potential print e-commerce users in commercial digital and large-format print feel that it is either not relevant to their business or is too difficult and expensive to implement. Why do they think that, and are they right?
The benefits of W2P as it was initially promoted were largely focused on an enormous expansion of the sales opportunity via an online print shop that was always open for business from anywhere in the world. The success of online-only print services targeted at consumers, such as Vistaprint, PhotoBox and Moonpig, was used to suggest that printers could tap a vast new consumer market that could not only fill any spare capacity on their presses but also provide a route for significant expansion.
This led to many printers forming the impression that W2P was not suitable for business-to-business sales or for use with existing customers - two categories that between them cover most printers' customer bases.
In reality, current W2P solutions are very well-suited to serving existing business-to-business customers and this is actually the best place for most printers to start. Following the move online of sales transactions of all kinds, it is a logical progression for printers to offer their customers e-commerce options. As this trend continues, it will look increasingly odd for a printer not to have some kind of online sales portal, even if only for existing customers.
For simple repeat and stock item transactions, ordering online can be more convenient for customers than having to phone, fax or email. W2P also provides a closed or guided environment for ordering, which avoids the omissions or ambiguities that can arise from unstructured email, fax or phone orders. Template-based W2P also ensures printability of the job without further checking.
There are also competitive factors that are pushing printers towards implementing W2P. New entrants to print market sectors who are using newer, more productive or more flexible technologies can put price pressure on established print service providers. The latter can only respond by cutting prices and looking for ways to recoup the lost revenue or by investing in the competing technologies themselves.
Looking to capture a larger part of their customers' print spend, for example, some offset printers have also invested in large-format print services, often starting with the inkjet printers they use for proofing.
As well as generally raising the level of competition for specialist large-format print service providers, this trend has led to them being undercut by litho printers offering prices based on offset printing cost models that did not allow for the more complex finishing and shipping/installation that are frequently required with large-format work. Even if the under-pricing litho printers subsequently exit the large-format market, once rates have been depressed it is difficult for surviving print service providers to raise them again.
Given these reasons to implement W2P, it might seem reasonable to expect the majority of printers to be offering it already. While figures from InfoTrends' 2012 European Production Software Investment Outlook predict a healthy 71 per cent growth in the volume of work submitted via website or dedicated portal between 2011 and 2014, the average percentage of work that they estimate will be submitted online in 2014 will still be just under 18 per cent, with a quarter of printers still receiving no work at all via this route and more than half of them receiving less than 15 per cent.
There have been a number of reasons for printers not to try to implement W2P. Lack of customer demand is often cited, though this may just reflect lack of awareness on the customers' part. Some customers are reluctant to change from familiar behaviour; they be uncomfortable with the technology, perceive a loss of personal relationships or be concerned that it is a change designed to lock them in.
Perceived cost and difficulty of implementation are also barriers. 'Software as a service' (SaaS) pricing models are not always well-understood, with some prospective users believing that although the software is 'rented', they still have to provide and maintain the hardware and network infrastructure on which to run it.
Supporting a wide mix of job types via W2P is seen as difficult, particularly in wide-format work. Linked to this are lingering perceptions that dedicated software to meet these needs does not exist, is insufficiently flexible or is prohibitively expensive. Based on earlier experience or anecdotal evidence, potential W2P users may think that the only route to successful implementation is via bespoke software development, which cannot be done in-house by most print companies and which would be expensive to commission and maintain externally.
However, these perceptions are out-of-date. Provided that it is correctly planned and promoted, W2P is a viable and valuable addition to most printers' existing sales channels. Subsequent articles in this series will outline the pitfalls to avoid and how to achieve the automation required for productive and profitable online print sales.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.