7.2 E-commerce for Print Manufacturing
E-commerce is by definition the buying and selling of goods online. Print companies are turning to e-commerce to target the ever-growing number of people who want self-service and a more convenient way to purchase products in their busy lives. Today, many customers are online and the number of users purchasing goods through the Internet is growing substantially (Statistics Canada, 2014). The ability to offer an effective e-commerce service for ordering can put a print company ahead of its competitors. This approach challenges traditional thinking that a printer is only a bricks-and-mortar or face-to-face business. As more and more businesses move online to satisfy their customers’ procurement needs, so must print companies (Supply Management, 2014).
A print company should transition with its customers to stay ahead of the competition. E-commerce allows a customer to order any product 24/7 without having to leave the office or pick up the phone. Providing online ordering has other benefits besides increased sales. It can help a company gain more knowledge about its customers and track purchasing trends. As well, online ordering allows print companies to offer customers additional products and services that may not come up in discussions during traditional forms of print procurement.
Not all business can be conducted online, as the more complex a project is the more a company will benefit from offering its services and expertise in traditional face-to-face communications. However, the ability to stay ahead of the competition by using Internet technologies helps solidify a company’s relationship with its customers. For example, even if customers are buying products offline, they are likely doing their research online first. Therefore, a company can use the valuable data generated during this research to greatly improve its ability to evaluate and manage its business. When customers place orders, companies can analyze the frequency of those orders, their customers’ buying trends, and which products are more successful than others. Data-gathering is the most important advantage online ordering has over traditional offline ordering. Using an e-commerce system allows a print company to learn more about what, when, and how customers are ordering. Online technologies enable a company to broaden the products and services it provides more than ever before.
Templated Variable Data Printing
Templated variable data technology allows a customer to produce a product using a template-driven order-entry system. These templates are used most frequently through an e-commerce store. A variable template allows the user to control the information made available on a product and see the real-time end result. Variable data entry is an ideal solution for direct mailers, promotional flyers, event posters, and stationery. Variable data allows for the custom printing of one-of-a-kind pieces that are unique to the targeted market. The potential for variable data is endless and is only limited by the imagination behind a design.
Variable data is not limited to digital presses, as many lithography presses can incorporate designs with the simple swap of a plate. It is common for companies ordering large quantities of business cards to print blank shells on which they can later imprint a person’s information. A print company obtains this information by having the customer use a variable template, which is then uniquely created to ensure all branding standards are consistent. This allows any employee of the client company to order business cards and stay true to the brand. The person fills out his or her name, title, and phone and email contact information, then views the result on a soft-proof. Then the person simply submits the card through a shopping cart system, eliminating the need for multiple communications, and making production efficient by having fewer hands touch the project.
The Benefits to a Print Company
Web2print has multiple benefits for a print company. Software can automate tasks, eliminating the need for staff to touch a project, which makes the service profitable. Allowing the customer to create a print-ready PDF is an asset, not a loss of control, as it allows the customer to assume responsibility for any typos or errors. Web2print also makes the production process much faster and efficient by automating time-consuming steps, and most importantly, helps build solid rapport and customer loyalty.
Once a PDF is ordered, a job ticket (called a docket) is automatically generated containing all of the order specifications, including pricing. The PDF then travels to a hot folder where it is accessed by the imposition software, which imposes it onto a press sheet. The press sheet either goes straight to the digital press to be printed or to the plate setter if it is being printed by conventional lithography. The whole process is extremely efficient and takes considerably less time to complete than having staff continually involved as the PDF travels through their departments.
The Benefits to the Customer
Web2print is all about customer satisfaction. That should be the top priority when a print company creates customized online storefronts and variable templates. Customers no longer have to call or physically meet a sales rep, as they now have the ability to order their printed materials at any time of the day and from anywhere. Today, many customers do not sit behind a desk for their entire workday, and establishing an online service allows a company to target those on-the-go customers who need to order print.
Companies can track orders in real time, which helps them predict future buying trends. This is especially beneficial to customers wanting to print blank items, otherwise known as shells. Using this information, a company can help a customer determine how many shells to print in the next run.
Business Models: Licensed or Subscribed Software
Web2print services come in two primary types: licensed software and subscribed software. Licensed software allows a print company to own the technology by paying an upfront fee; subscription-based software typically requires a company to pay a monthly or yearly fee to use the software.
Licensed software strategies typically represent a large cash outflow up front. The company can then use the software to create as many portals or implementations as it wishes. While the software is supported through a licence, it is expected that the company will maintain its own web presence, and therefore may require highly trained web developers or programmers. The outlay of expense is gradually recouped over time through increased user implementation.
The subscription model, also referred to as SaaS (software as a service) reduces a company’s support and maintenance costs up front. Saas allows adding new print products to move forward more quickly because the need to support the same version throughout computers internally is removed. All subscribers operate on the same version at the same time, and are upgraded regularly at the same time. Because the Internet is constantly evolving, the SaaS model is flexible and better aligned to move with it. This business model contributes to a company’s return on investment (ROI) as well. Since a company typically doesn’t pay a large sum of money upfront for the software, it can easily budget for payments based on monthly usage. The company only pays for the services it uses. This business model builds a partnership between the print company and its SaaS vendor, and a positive ROI is beneficial to both parties in the partnership because it keeps both vendor and subscriber focused on mutual success.