Evolving from a simple storefront to a complex interconnected eco-system: that’s the situation web-to-print technology reached in the past decade. Printers must be aware of this complexity, and which opportunities it will provide in a near future.
Many printers still consider that web-to-print is just a question of setting up an online storefront, and selling business cards to plumbers thanks to Google adwords campaings. Cheap customization plugins and other addons for Shopify or Wordpress may convince them that it is as simple as it may appear. Forget it. Nowadays, developing an online printing activity embrace multi-facetted environments and require different knowledge and expertise. You must think about a multi-dimensional ecosystem, with multiple inputs and outputs.
Of course, an online storefront is required. It’s the basement. But it’s not enough. In most of the cases, printers need to create multiple storefronts, as they need to operate multiple vertical brands targeted to different B2C audience, on mobile, desktop… as well as B2B store dedicated to resellers or professionals. One single storefront in a “one size fits all” model is no longer relevant. Customers want customized experiences, with product catalog and marketing content perfectly matching their requirements.
If they work with franchisee networks, or corporation, printers also often need to create in parallel of these public storefronts some closed portals, with specific product catalog, customized pricing grids, specific pay on account systems with credit limits, and complex approval workflows.
User experiences must be different from one storefront to another, designs must be different, product catalogs, prices, customers must be different… but in the back-end, all the information must be collected, compiled, synchronized and consolidated in a single environment. That’s a new challenge to operate efficiently a multi-portal web-to-print activity.
Selling print online today means also being capable to network. The printer is no longer alone. He’s working with colleagues and partners, from which he’s subcontracting jobs, or to which he’s pushing jobs he’s not able to manage directly. Its web-to-print platform must be able to connect to different workshops, to push automatically jobs, to retrieve data and to synchronize files between different workflows. And at the end, to generate the right invoices with the right VAT on a monthly basis.
Since the Covid pandemic, print-on-demand platforms have incredibly increased their business, especially in merch and PPAG. In order to reduce their carbon footprint, and to strengthen their supply chain, most of them have transformed their production model from inhouse manufacturing to a complex network of subcontractors located in different areas of the world, and connected together like a spider web through API and connectors. These new platforms represent an incredible opportunity for local printers, that can receive thanks to them orders coming from worldwide customers, without requiring to pay for advertising. But to become one the fulfillers of these print-on-demand platforms, printers must be able to plug their web-to-print platform to their IT systems easily, to retrieve orders, push prices and synchronize order statuses. You think it’s a myth? The number of printers working as fulfillers for platforms like Gelato, CloudPrinter or Helloprint is increasing at high speed. And more and more printers are even selling goods on Amazon.
Many printing machine manufacturers have already anticipated these changes. Their machines are now plugged to various cloud technologies, and they’re able to push their availability based on production forecasts, to retrieve jobs from partners and print them when they can. Welcome into the Print 4.0 era !
Recent tensions in paper and substrates availability, and frequent increases of prices have revealed the importance for printers to be able to quickly adjust their prices to preserve their margin. It’s mandatory to have an MIS / ERP system able to integrate these changes of costs or replacement of substrate to recalculate selling prices, and to synchronize these new prices with their web-to-print system. If you’re too slow to adjust your prices to raw material costs changes, you will lose margin, and maybe you’ll die at short term…
In eCommerce, Data is king, as marketeers are pleased to say. It’s necessary to analyze activity, understand the customer journey, find spots where customers are leaving your store, where you’re spending money uselessly, or where you can improve yourself. That’s why web-to-print systems must be able to be seamlessly interconnected with business intelligence systems, data visualization dashboards, and marketing automation platforms, to deliver the right insights to stakeholders, and to push customized information and advertising to customers, at the right moment.
Operating a web-to-print activity in 2023 is complex, as web-to-print should be considered as an ecosystem, more than just a single storefront. Web-to-print systems are like an engine plugged to different systems that need to synchronize together to operate efficiently.
In order to make the right choices in terms of technology, partners and strategy, printers must be aware of this next-gen environment, the risks and the opportunities. Getting the global picture is essential to build the right strategy for your market segment. The choices you’re about to make today will decide tomorrow if you are able to grow, or if you’re not able to answer to your customers and partners requirements.
You’ll see there all the facets of the printing industry. You’ll be able to meet technology partners as well as printing platforms, and printing machine manufacturers. You’ll get the insights required to build YOUR strategy, focused on your core market. You’ll get inspiration.
You’ll meet there the best world-class experts. You’ll have a chance to get customers’ testimonials, users feedbacks about experiences, technologies or business models.
It’s difficult to be a printer today, while digital advertising is increasing its market share from printing industry, while customers are reducing their investments and while online printers are taking orders from traditional printers. It’s difficult to manage a print warehouse while energy costs are exploding, and when setting up the forecast for the next quarter is almost impossible.
But it’s mandatory to come to visit drupa with your C-level board. You’ll get a breath, you’ll take distance from daily operations, you’ll think about long-term strategy, you’ll change your mind and you’ll see opportunities. I’m sure that you’ll get back to your factory with new ideas, new strategies, and most of all, a new energy.
Print is not dead. It’s just completely changing, as the world is changing dramatically. You must adapt yourself, otherwise you’ll die. Web-to-print is one of the keys, probably one of the most important today. And you’ll probably get the right answers at drupa.
Ludovic Martin is a freelance consultant in web-to-print and eCommerce strategy, collaborating with major online printing platforms, software editors and eCommerce retailers. He has worked during 20 years in the online printing market, starting as project manager for Quark Xpress integrators. From 2012 to 2017, he was Chief Marketing Officer at Exaprint, leading European online printing platform, acquired in 2015 by Cimpress.
Aside from being a consultant, Ludovic has been publishing since 2010 the Print.watch blog, with many articles about the online printing market, technologies and news. In 2020, Ludovic published a market study about the state of online printing industry in Europe.