By Cassandra Balentine
Placing and managing orders online is second nature to many print customers, particularly business to commercial consumer (B2C). However, the ease of use offered by Web to print (W2P) solutions has expanded to serve more of the print space, including wide format and business to business (B2B).
While not every wide format job is right for W2P, print service providers (PSPs) offering the capability can attract new customers that may not want or need to interact with a customer service representative. This frees up employees’ time to work on other projects or direct their talents and usefulness elsewhere.
In addition to the ability to attract new customers—and more effectively serve those that frequently run repeat or non-complex jobs—additional benefits for W2P vary based on the functionality the PSP subscribes to.
For basic storefront submissions, PSPs offer improved customer service, standardization, and an engaging Web experience. Once integration capabilities are added to the mix, additional advantages for the PSP, such as increased productivity, reduced turnaround time, and minimized errors, also come into play.
Many W2P solutions are established for the commercial print space, but more offerings have emerged to cater to wide format applications. Wide format PSPs should consider the benefits and challenges of W2P to determine if it makes sense for their specific operation.
Wide Format Considerations
A variety of functions are included in today’s W2P solutions. However, wide format users require specific features that may be outside those required by traditional commercial printers. These features include customizable product templates, the ability to support customer-uploaded files, price calculations based on square footage, a system for flagging low-resolution or poor quality graphics, and the capability to zoom into fine detail.
Due to the complexity many wide format jobs entail, Charlotte Tueckmantel, VP/GM, value-added solutions, productivity software, EFI, believes that this complexity should be transparent to the buyer. She describes a solution that intuitively guides customers to the best possible specifications for their intended use as a must have.
“Buyers should be provided with an accurate preview of the finished product, including finishing, accurate real-time pricing with the ability to test various scenarios, ability to validate the quality of uploaded artwork, and an in-browser design engine for WYSIWYG editing,” she says.
Online interactive designers are a core component of many systems and enable end customers to create and interact with graphics through the software. “Currently, most print businesses only allow for uploading graphics to initiate an order. The real opportunity is to allow for the generation/creation of production-ready graphics using a simple online designer,” says JP Hunt, partner, InkSoft.
Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, commercial software, Agfa Graphics, suggests wide format PSPs also benefit from a W2P solution that easily handles varied file types and sizes as well as the ability to preflight customer-uploaded artwork appropriately to identify serious problems without discouraging the buyer.
“Not every W2P solution is meant to deal with large files, and not every workflow is made to deal with designing on a large canvas,” warns Slava Apel, CEO, Amazing Print Corp., noting that PSPs need to invest in the right solution from the start.
Usman Ali, principal, Ordant, adds that in his experience, most W2P software is fragmented and not specifically built for wide format. “Clients end up having multiple software solutions, one for estimating, one for W2P, and a third for tracking. Most companies are trying to connect these multiple software options, which not only increases the total cost, but also puts the PSP at risk if the connection is broken,” he explains.
Having a W2P in place is one step. However, a successful W2P system requires work. It is important to understand the necessary commitment of resources required to get started.
“Because wide format covers a lot of ground, most companies operating in this space find that their W2P solution needs a fair amount of setup,” says Liz Wilson, group marketing director, Customer Focus Software, Inc.
Bryant Gillespie, sales and marketing manager, ShopVOX, agrees. “I think a lot of people research W2P and assume it’s going to fix their headaches. I was guilty of this myself,” he admits. “The reality is it takes a lot of work to setup a storefront, create the templates, and change your current processes—all before you start getting orders. And you have to commit the time and people to set up and promote. Don’t let that discourage anyone—just know that you need a solid plan for what happens after you purchase your solution.”
Hosting is another consideration. Cloud-based or Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions provide a certain level of attractiveness. “A SaaS solution makes it easy to implement without the cost and complexity of local servers, infrastructure, bandwidth, and security,” says Gallucci.
Ellen Hurwitch, director of operations, the Americas, RedTie Limited, believes that overall, the challenges associated with establishing W2P in wide format are diminishing and solutions continue to evolve to remove any remaining hurdles.
Advantages and Limitations
As with any software implementation, there are advantages and limitations to W2P systems.
In terms of advantages, Scott St. Cyr, principal, Cyrious Software, points out that online ordering is an extension of your customer service and a tool for winning new business. He explains that as customers begin ordering online, they may purchase products not previously supplied to them. “With an ordering system in place, the wide format PSP becomes well equipped to seek new business from multi-location businesses and large corporations.”
David Conrad, director of marketing, Mutoh America, Inc., says wide format printers looking to expand their market and grow their business need to be able to reach customers outside of their traditional sales territory. “Most of the brick and mortar print shops are limited to local traffic and are looking for ways to build their business and promote their products and capabilities without adding a ton of overhead costs,” he explains, adding that W2P solutions can provide just that.
However, wide format-focused PSPs have many factors to consider before selecting and implementing a W2P solution. Serge Clauss, product sales manager, Caldera, says wide format printing businesses are versatile and therefore require a lot of flexibility. “The ecommerce solution needs to apply the same philosophy,” he offers.
Beyond basic signs and banners, there is an opportunity to customize products like clothing, textiles, décor items, packaging, and prototypes. Gallucci suggests that a flexible W2P system should have no problem facilitating these applications.
Even with the best storefronts, adoption by the end user can be challenging. “We have witnessed great websites that take a long time to gain momentum because no person at the corporate headquarters can put a plan in place for their users to migrate to it,” admits St. Cyr. “We recommend that wide format businesses always charge a significant fee for the development of a customized storefront, which may help cover the setup time, but more importantly gives someone at the customer location ownership of the results and increases the likelihood of success.”
End User Ease of Use
For W2P to be successful, customers must utilize the system. Therefore, ease of use is essential. “Wide format has taken on a bigger role in the print world. The need for end users to be able to use an online ordering system to get their projects priced and produced is becoming greater,” admits Hurwitch.
Ease of use is one of the main reasons for a print buyer to use a PSP’s W2P solution. “Today customer convenience is a deliverable just as much as the finished piece. A simple and intuitive user experience is critical to achieving this. For the PSP, ease of use translates into not needing to hire a Web developer to create and manage the W2P storefronts,” says Steve Ciesemier, direct sales manager, Aleyant Systems, LLC.
It is this ease of use that is the best measurement for any system. Apel points out that if customers can’t use an online designer, or if the designer is too complicated, the provider will lose sales. “PSPs should look for a system that is fast, non-Flash, and offers guidance in every step of the way. For every one-second delay in Web performance, businesses typically loose seven percent of conversions,” cautions Apel.
Gillespie believes that ease of use is the most important aspect. He explains that even if you get an order in without picking up the phone or deciphering an email, it is not a win for your customer if they have to spend 20 minutes trying to figure it out.
PSPs must consider their audience and request features and functions specific to that market. “Professional users are quite familiar with advanced tools. However, if your website is dedicated to non-professional customers, it’s strongly recommended to limit the number of options. You need to find the right balance,” suggests Clauss.
Because wide format spans a variety of applications, keep the process as intuitive as possible. “For example, design templates with safe zones to help users,” recommends Wilson.
St. Cyr says that the functions offered by W2P are meant to simplify the process for both users and the PSP. “Just by automating the approval process and moving it online, our customers save hours per week and increase the speed from order to production,” he offers.
According to Reuben Quesus, director of business development, RacadTech, ease of use is essential to a W2P solution. “It will make or break a technology company. If W2P products are not efficient, website visitors will not stay loyal for long.”
Select W2P solutions enable integration with additional systems such as RIPs, job costing, scheduling, and color management. Depending on the PSP and its typical workflow, integration functionality may be viewed as critical or nice to have.
Integration with workflow can provide more efficiency and reliability, fewer touch points and errors, and easier administration and management,” says Gallucci.
Additionally, integration with business management solutions, such as accounting software and shipping adds to ease of use for both the end user and PSP.
So how important is integration to print providers? “We surveyed trade show participants to ask this very question,” recalls Wilson. “They said it was a nice to have rather than a critical asset.”
Hurwitch agrees, adding that integration is important, but may not be top priority for all. “When you are planning to take some—or all—of your business online, there is a lot to do in terms of setup, and even learning how to do business online. So in my opinion, it is important that the solution you choose can integrate into your current processes, but it is something that can wait until the order volumes justify it.”
The importance of integration may simply correlate to the amount of orders a PSP is expecting. “W2P can become an industrial process. Everything can be automated from the order up to the print,” says Clauss.
However, he explains that there is a big difference between W2P and the ability to get orders via a website. “Obviously, if you need to treat all the data manually, your costs and reactivity will be altered. Therefore, if you want to grow you need to connect your solutions together.”
Tueckmantel suggests seamless integration between order entry, management, and production systems eliminates the need for data re-entry, improves turn times, reduces errors and waste, and supports workflow automation from customer self-service order entry through shipping, data collection, and invoicing.
Integration capabilities are important for improving productivity and reducing errors for the print provider. “Integrations can reduce the number of ‘touches’ whether its retrieving orders, opening and reviewing files, entering orders in accounting systems, or running jobs,” recommends Ciesemier.
St. Cyr says that the decision to automate is independent of the W2P, but the W2P implementation should match the existing automation strategy. “If the organization is already using automated workflow, then they should consider how to integrate W2P into that process. If they are not, it could be a mistake to implement a major process change at the same time as a new technology application,” he cautions.
“Avoiding data re-entry and being able to send data to other systems saves time. It’s difficult for a company to scale up and grow without these time-saving integrations,” adds David Rudolph, founder, Pixta, Inc.
Web to Wide Format
W2P solutions provide a way to expand business and attract new customers. Additionally, with integration into existing workflow, these solutions can help streamline business and production processing from order entry through printing and finishing, as well as shipping and fulfillment. It is important to consider functions that specifically cater to wide format needs to ensure ease of use for customers.
Jan2016, Digital Output