Print buyers easily engage with user-friendly Web to print (W2P) portals. Niche sites offer personalized photo cards for any occasion, photo books, canvas prints, and dye-sublimation onto mugs, mouse pads, t-shirts, and more. Wide format print is also accessible from online thanks to specialized W2P storefronts.
According to analyst firm InfoTrends Inc., its report Wide Format Printing: A Critical Element in the Communications Mix, online purchasing is a growing trend in the wide format space. The study was published in June 2013. 526 executives and decision makers in advertising and media, amusement/entertainment, events, healthcare, hospitality, and retail were polled regarding their print media ordering methods. According to respondents, in the last 12 months, on average 23 percent of their wide format print orders occurred online.
Additionally, InfoTrends polled 310 wide format print providers regarding their usage of online storefronts. Top applications ordered online include proofing, photography, maps, presentations, and engineering drawings. While the top results reflect a trend toward the CAD and GIS space, traditional sign products aren’t far behind. For example, 21.7 percent of respondents noted that signage is ordered online, point of purchase displays 19 percent, packaging samples 17.5 percent, and fine art work 14.9 percent.
Personalized storefronts are important assets to print service providers (PSPs). Software vendors design solutions specifically tailored to wide format, originally intended for commercial print shops and in plants. This is in response to the continued interest of wide format PSPs looking to utilize W2P. The result is an easily configurable portal that allows a PSP’s customer to order wide format graphics online, personalize, proof, and check the status of a job.
W2P is a cornerstone of narrow format print. Adapters of this technology realize the benefits and look to utilize it in other areas of print. Its matriculation to wide format is of particular interest.
“The success that the offset/prepress market has had with W2P solutions, coupled with the fact that many of these shops have been integrating wide format printing into their business model to grow and build presence in new markets has helped fuel the interest from the wide format printers,” explains David Conrad, director marketing, Mutoh America, Inc.
“More intense competition in the narrow print space over the years has driven W2P as a means to differentiate from the competition. As the competition in wide format heats up, the need to offer faster and more unique services becomes critical. Also, more users from the narrow print side have come to expect the same ecommerce capabilities when they need wide format products,” shares Gil Newsom, development director, Rocketprint Software LLC.
According to Stephen McWilliam, EVP, Avanti Systems, PSPs with wide format capabilities are no different than their commercial print counterparts when it comes to customer needs. “That is, the customer is looking for the print shop that never closes. They want a way to communicate with their print shop that is easy and convenient, without having to try and track someone down on a phone call or physically visit the shop,” he continues.
It’s logical that wide format printers utilize online purchasing practices, especially as consumers and businesses in general use ecommerce as a primary way to purchase goods. “As ecommerce technology in the print world gets more sophisticated, the specialized requirements of wide format printing can start to be addressed in a convenient, self-service way,” explains Vitaly Golomb, CEO, Keen Systems, Inc.
Much of this increased interest is due to technological improvements. “The advances of digital printing in wide format have reduced costs significantly. This has allowed printers to move into the arena of print on demand with high-quality products and services. W2P is a natural progression,” shares Dave Minnick, director of operations – Web2Print solutions, EFI.
“Online design technology has also progressed and become popular for small format items. Similiar technology is now capable of enabling buyers to do much the same with wide format such as posters, banners, murals, and wraps. Some systems have migrated from Flash to newer HTML5 in order to work on more buying platforms such as Apple iPads,” adds Steve Ciesemier, account executive, Aleyant Systems.
Eye catching imagery is essential to the online buyer. Web storefronts are designed to attract attention and push the sale. “Wide format is offer driven. When customers see banners, flag signs, or stickers in a picture online they think of how those products can help them in their visual communications. Had they not seen them online, they would not have had the idea of purchasing them,” explains Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing and communication, Caldera.
The Trickle Down Effect
There are a number of reasons why a wide format PSP would and should implement a W2P storefront. A streamlined Web ordering procedure allows for increased efficiency, decreased turnaround times, reduced errors, sales growth, and new ways to reach prospective clients.
“The classic PSP has to optimize their cost structure because of decreasing profit margins. W2P offers the chance to get in contact with new customers over a 24/7 Web-based online shop solution at reasonable investment costs,” advises Catherine Kirschner, marcom manager, ColorGATE Digital Output Solutions GmbH.
“It is said that around 80 percent of Internet users research products online. It is no longer an option but a necessity to have presence on the Internet. Along with that presence, it only makes sense to offer an online service to configure products and place orders as the world continues to exponentially grow in online transactions,” explains Minnick.
A retail storefront—business to consumer (B2C)—provides global reach, past local sales territory. “This is an opportunity to gain many new customers and to win repeat business, and provides the ability to offer new products. Although the B2C model in the traditional print market is dominated by a few large providers—and so for the smaller printers, is more suited to niche markets—I see tremendous opportunity for B2C in the wide format space,” foresees Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa Graphics.
In addition to creating a retail storefront, a PSP can extend its competitive edge by offering private—business to business (B2B)—storefronts tailored for a larger customer. “The store’s Web site address, branding, color scheme, product catalog, pricing, shipping, and payment methods can all be customer specific. The same approach can be used for wholesale/trade printing. Customers are locked in, competitors are locked out,” says Ciesemier.
W2P benefits directly affect all customers, whether B2C or B2B. 24/7 accessibility is one attractive feature, creating enhanced service. Reduced calls to a print shop are another benefit. Customers find answers to questions in a self-service manner, with a portal offering job status, invoice, inventory level, and shipping information. Products can be saved for later, order history is available, and job quoting in place.
McWilliam compares a W2P portal to an ATM. “A W2P portal is like an automated banking machine for print. Sometimes you need to go to the bank for services such as setting up a mortgage. Other simple transactions you want to do online or via an ATM. The same principal is applied here. A client is willing to invest the time to visit the shop to discuss a complex project/job or to see physical examples. Other times you just want a simple answer, so you go online.”
“PSPs need to understand that the Internet now has a big place in anything you order. People will go online to check, compare, and once they have the desire to buy, want to do it fast and simple. With a buying process that is too complex, the customer just won’t bother. Ordering needs to be just one click way,” recommends Hanssens.
It is this convenience that keeps people coming back. “People are creatures of habit,” points out Bob Raus, category manager, SmartStream and partner programs, Americas, Hewlett-Packard. “If you provide a good experience, price, and service, they will come back again,” he continues.