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Web-to-Print: A Path to Buyer Satisfaction

July 2013 By Stephanie Pieruccini and Arianna Valentini
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In today's competitive marketplace, customer service and satisfaction go farther than ever before. Maintaining a high level of customer service can be a challenge for print service providers (PSPs) that are experiencing the effects of the changing industry. Nevertheless, there are opportunities for PSPs to leverage technology that can help automate customer ordering and interactions. That technology is Web-to-print.

Since its early adoption beginning in the 1990s, Web-to-print has grown to become an integral part of the printing business for service providers and the customers ordering print and media. The implementation of these systems has broadened the customer reach and awareness for the service providers who have adopted this technology, while allowing customers the access to the self-service information they desire. As a result, Web-to-print storefronts have become an important part of how the printing business maintains a customer relationship.

In March of 2013, InfoTrends, in partnership with North American Publishing Co. (NAPCO), publisher of Printing Impressions, surveyed 254 print service providers, including 96 print-for-pay providers, to find out how print service providers are developing, implementing and growing Web-based business models. The results from this survey provide practical insights for service providers as to how Web-to-print technology is being implemented in production print environments and the key opportunities it provides.

There are many definitions for what Web-to-print entails. Though often used interchangeably with print e-commerce, Info-Trends defines the concept of Web-to-print as connecting print buyers with print sellers through a Web-based interface where they can order print products. It also describes a category of software that enables this process. There are many levels of Web-to-print adoption, such as allowing one-off or ad-hoc file submission for non-recurring jobs, catalog ordering for static print, or template-based ordering to enable personalized or variable print.

Today's print buyers are increasingly technology savvy. Like many consumers, they are adopting smartphones and ordering products online. Which begs the question, why would they not want to order print online? For some, it is the comfort of doing things as they were always done. For others, it is a lack of knowledge that this service may be available and the convenience it brings.

As a customer, a Web-to-print storefront allows for more purchasing of different products and services in once place. For brand-conscience businesses, a storefront enables brand management in the form of predesigned and approved templates that follow corporate branding guidelines. Web-to-print storefronts also introduce the opportunity for creating approval workflows that help optimize internal business processes when ordering certain products that require a manager's approval before it's processed. Above all, a storefront provides customers with access to their order history, job status and billing details—freeing up the time of customer service representatives to do other tasks and helping the print service provider gain access to payments at a faster rate. Printing and customer satisfaction are based on consistency; the more a customer has, the better their overall experience.

For PSPs that do not offer Web-to-print, receiving files can be a challenge and create a bottleneck at prepress. In general, those surveyed reported that more than 36 percent of print volume is received via e-mail. While e-mail is more efficient than a physical hand-off of a job or mail (which is how PSPs surveyed receive 21 percent of print volume), it does present problems such as lost or misplaced e-mails or attachment issues, including file size and format issues, which cause unnecessary delays.

Web-to-print solutions enable print service providers to create automated pre-production checks that scan a file before the submission is complete, notifying the customer of any issues immediately. This saves the customer and the PSP valuable time and helps to ensure that the job is not delayed. According to the survey, 29 percent of print volume is received, on average, via Web-to-print solutions by print service providers offering this service. This translates to potentially 29 percent of print volume that could be automated (if it is not already). Customers using the Internet to submit jobs are able to interact with a self-service tool that puts them in control.

Speeds Request-for-Quote Process

Another challenge faced by PSPs that do not take the full leap into Web-to-print can relate to the quoting process. Web-to-print allows for transparency in pricing, which helps customers make decisions faster. According to the survey, 64 percent of PSPs are offering requests-for-quote forms on their Websites. While this may be a good step for someone who wants to leverage the Internet but does not have the time to implement Web-to-print, the challenge is that a customer may be reluctant to request a quote through a Website if picking up a phone to contact a printer directly is faster.

When PSPs were asked if Web-to-print was critical for their business, 82 percent agreed with that statement. For more than half of print service providers to say that they feel it is necessary to their business speaks to the value and opportunity that Web-to-print brings to their customers and the business. In a time of high competition, a well-integrated, Web-to-print system not only shows customers that a print service provider is on top of the latest technology, but also shows that they are committed to building and supporting customer's needs for the long term.

Print service providers also reported that Web-to-print enabled them to go after new market niches. For many printers, this niche is focused on expanding into marketing services. The challenge becomes selling these services to their customers who may be unaware that the PSP even offers them. Web-to-print storefronts are also an ideal platform for self-service digital marketing for those service providers that do not have the resources to offer complete marketing services. Providing access to these tools can empower customers to purchase and manage these services on their own. By including marketing services within a Web-to-print interface, customers can become aware of all of the service provider's capabilities.

Smorgasbord of Services

Figure 2 (in the photo tab to the right) demonstrates the various services a print service provider can offer its customers through Web-to-print. These include: e-mail marketing, Website design/creation, personalized Web pages and digital interactive catalogs. On average, each of the services previously mentioned was offered by print service providers with Web-to-print solutions 33 percent of the time. Keep in mind that new capabilities could also include new print applications, such as wide-format or packaging.

Technology, of course, plays an important role in finding success with Web-to-print. In the U.S. alone, there are dozens upon dozens of Web-to-print solutions on the market, promising PSPs massive success through the use of their solutions. Some solutions excel at applications like marketing management, while others are great for accepting a wide variety of jobs submitted in an ad-hoc fashion.

When shopping for a Web-to-print solution, it is important to keep in mind all of your customers. For some print service providers, it may be tempting to wait for a customer to request a Web-to-print storefront before making the investment. The challenge may be selecting a solution that is catered to a single client, and not necessarily best for expanding to other customers. When selecting a solution, it is important to consider not just the customer who is requesting it, but other clients who are ideal candidates to migrate to this technology, as well.

The key to a successful Web-to-print service is its ability to encourage one stop shopping for a busy customer. Not only is the process more accessible to busy print buyers, but an online storefront can serve as a reminder for other products and services that may need to be ordered. This allows a print service provider to showcase capabilities that would otherwise be overlooked. Choosing a solution that accommodates near-term and long-term service capabilities will ensure that the technology can grow with your business.

Print service providers looking to make an informed technology buying decision can leverage InfoTrends' Ultimate Guide Online at to access guides on Web-to-print and many other software and hardware categories.

It is clear that Web-to-print already plays an important role in print businesses of all types and sizes. That role is only going to amplify as we continue to move forward as an industry. Web-enabling your print business can provide improved customer interaction, satisfaction, turnaround time, reduced costs for clients and an optimized production workflow. By investing in the right technology and building on its capabilities by adding new services and features, PSPs can launch unique, effective solutions that grow their businesses in new ways. Now is the time to invest in Web-to-print. PI



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