Online print purchasing is reckoned to be worth 5% of the €500 billion spent across the industry in Europe each year. This means plenty of scope for others to enter the fray – provided they have deep pockets to fund the investment in technology and especially marketing that is needed.
There is another way, one that around 50% of printers have experienced according to RedTie managing director Jamie Thomson. The Northampton company is one of the leading web to print development companies around. And the opportunity is in business to business, using web to print to hook directly into a customers procurement systems. But do not sell web to print he warns.
“Customers will not know what that means. Corporates do not search for web to print,” he says. “Instead a printer should approach a customer saying ‘I can solve your brand protection issues’.”
At its simplest the technology allows the customers to tweak a standard business card template, the easiest challenge for the software to overcome, according to Thomson.
Now the technology can cope with a much wider spread of products and offer much more sophisticated editing capabilities. Soft- ware like Chili Publish has taken this even further with almost the full functionality of InDesign via a web browser.
Most will neither want nor need this. But they will want to be able to lock in specified typefaces, logos and relevant images. Without the control that web to print brings, the chances are that someone producing a poster or brochure will either repeat one with now out of date type or corporate colour, or else scan in an already printed logo using a low cost scanner. Web to print will prevent this.
Thomson adds: “We get a steady flow of inquiries from printers who have tried a low cost system and found it cannot meet all requirements. Or else they have installed something at the insistence of one customer and need something that is more advanced and can be offered to other customers. We make sure we match all their requirements.”
The online interface is the first step in an automated workflow, RedTie matching its XML schema to that of the MIS it is integrating to. He reckons that it is easy to do this rather than use JDF “because not all JDFs are the same and different suppliers have added their own functions”.
But he is clear that business to business is the better approach, “perhaps with a B2C as a side project. It is B2B that makes the money.”
Infigo has a slightly different emphasis. It has partnered with Trustpilot to incorporate the peer review engine within its software. For printers offering online print purchasing to small businesses, a ranking in a trusted review site can be crucial. More than three quarters of purchasers will check reviews before committing to a spend.
It is also how the large online businesses operate. Suzanne Rouart, Indigo head of marketing, says: “The Amazon and Uber effect has changed consumer expectations and evolved the way we interact with businesses and brands. Consumers expect 24/7, accessible anywhere, mobile, fast and slick experiences, whether they’re ordering for their businesses or themselves.
“As brands and suppliers strive to future proof their businesses to meet the demands of the digital first generation, we’re seeing the customised print on demand market grow rapidly, which is driving the phenomenal growth in demand for our software.”
This has taken Indigo into conversations with end customers, brands that want to provide greater interaction with their customers – perhaps for personalised packaging. This requires additional functionality to enrich the online experience, live 3D rendering of a package being a typical example.
Infigo managing director Douglas Gibson says: “Along with delivering a great front end user experience, we’ve been focused on creating new and exciting automation partnerships because we recognise that this is the way businesses need to future proof their operations and remain profitable.
“We’re engaging with brands selling everything from gifts to home furnishings to clothing to books, and even cutlery! I’d say that if you can personalise it, you can make it a gift and charge a premium, so I can only see this sector continuing to grow at an awe inspiring rate.
“We’re even being approached by traditional offset printers looking for solutions that enable them to deliver an effective online service, and bricks and mortar retailers wanting to deliver instore theatre with digital portals.”
Like RedTie, Infigo has attracted interest from companies that have tried one solution either to find that it is not delivering, or is no longer being developed. Tharstern MIS began offering its own online ordering system, but has since realised that this was not core to its MIS. Instead it will integrate with the mainstream W2P software developers.
There are currently perhaps 30-40 of these around the world, too many for all to survive, even with the variety of approaches to capturing orders via a browser that are possible. It does not mean competing with Vistaprint, but does mean working in ways that customers want.