Integrating Web-to-Print Workflows and Digital Storefronts Improves Efficiencies, Grows Sales, and Builds Client Loyalty
Here’s an idea: “Let’s get pizza! I’ll order online.” This excellent idea now becomes an exercise in execution. You have a couple of choices nearby — places that offer both good pizza and curbside pickup. On their portals, you experience different software solutions. Your favorite place (Pizz-o-Matic) has a labyrinthine ordering system where you’re never quite sure you ordered correctly. They also don’t answer their phone. Your second choice (Pizz-a-Rama) has a visual, intuitive, reliable customer interface that ensures accurate ordering and even tells you exactly when the pies will be ready. Which do you choose: best quality over certainty, or vice versa?
One of the many things the pandemic has taught us is the value of online ordering, and the reality that these systems are not all created equal. While all would likely agree that e-commerce has become habituated into our society, most could also share tales of the benefits and challenges of online ordering — preferences; likes and dislikes; abject failures.
Printing is no different. As Web-to-print (W2P) portals and online storefronts become increasingly commonplace, simply having the capability is no longer enough. Today’s successful systems must function exceptionally well, operate intuitively, and strengthen the printer/customer bond. And, in a well-executed system, print buyers should not have to choose between certainty and quality.
Three Companies, Three Web-to-Print Experiences
While it is easy to classify W2P systems as a singular thing, it is essential to understand that the diversity of systems, and the ways companies use them to serve and interact with their customers, is as diverse as the commercial printing segment itself. According to Carlos Ortiz, W2P account manager at Prestone Printing, located in Maywood, New Jersey, all the W2P services the company offers are for business-to-business accounts, and the company is actively leveraging its customers to increase their use of online storefront systems.
Prestone Printing, Ortiz says, uses a mix of offset, digital, and wide-format output systems to produce items, including business cards, books, and brochures. Its W2P services are powered using OnPrintShop by Radix, which it has used since 2017.
A pioneer in the use of W2P systems, Scott Nowokunski, president of Boingo Graphics in Charlotte, North Carolina, explains his company uses multiple software systems from industry providers, but chooses to keep the “who” and “what” of the systems under wraps. His company, which has a primary focus on healthcare, nonprofits, and manufacturing, maintains close to 100 client portals, and the business that comes through the portals accounts for about one-third of the company’s transactions. Applications include signage, letterhead, business cards, manuals, and brochures, in what Nowokunski refers to as “catalog shopping with some variable data.” The company’s jobs, he says, are completed 40% offset, 30% digital, and 25% wide-format.
At Think Patented, a commercial printing business located in Miamisburg, Ohio, Neils Winther, managing partner and chairman of the board, says two primary solutions are used: EFI PrintStream Fulfillment for fulfillment and Infigo for storefront functionality. The company, which Winther notes currently produces about 60% of its work on offset presses, is seeing increasing growth of its digital printing systems. While Winther says Think Patented produces a “wide variety of services,” he purposely took “printing” out of the company name when he bought the business in 2006, opting instead to refer to it as a “marketing execution company.”
At Boingo Graphics, Nowokunski says he has been attracted to W2P systems “since the ’90s,” stating that it made sense for the customers, and it provides the ability for companies spread across the country to control their brand assets. He believes that W2P capabilities will be one of Boingo Graphics’ primary growth opportunities moving forward. “It’s not about the print engines,” Nowokunski points out, elaborating on the value his company delivers. “It’s about the pain we’re reducing for our customers.” He adds that digital asset management has also become a benefit his company offers.
For Winther, the adoption of W2P capabilities is part of the company’s quest “to stay relevant, to be a printer that meets customer needs.” He says an increasing amount of print is being transacted online, and Think Patented wants to be there.
Ortiz reports Prestone Printing’s original motivation came from a major client that had different items for locations worldwide. He says the company is currently working on new W2P portals that will come online this year, noting it, “will increase the W2P volume considerably.”
Understanding the Benefits
As an automation tool, Winther says that, for customers, “it’s a click and it’s off their desk.” For Think Patented, he says a W2P workflow is a smart way to work, because much of the work is automated to go straight to the press. He adds that, for some jobs with “high variability,” a proofing process may still be done.
Nowokunski explains his company has its W2P system “fully integrated into our MIS — so there is no re-keying — and with our workflow automation software.” Like Winther, Nowokunski says more complex jobs may fall outside the capabilities of the W2P system, which is fine. “We automate the mundane so we can spend time on the complex,” he adds.
Ortiz says the W2P workflow at Prestone Printing includes the use of Enfocus Switch software, which handles pre-flighting, quality control, and impositioning. The company’s system, triggered by a barcode, even informs customers when shipping has been initiated. When asked if W2P capabilities have helped eliminate touches and save time, Ortiz pronounces “Oh my God, yes."
While W2P systems have given print customers increased control of the printing they order, via the creation of pre-defined products, billing has its own variability, often driven by the preferences of the customer, and whether they choose to pay by credit card or account. To illustrate ease of use, Ortiz says that for some products, a customer only needs to specify quantity and submit the job — all other fields are pre-populated based on the account.
Nowokunski notes that while the printing specs for many W2P jobs are “pretty much fixed,” it is in billing where Boingo Graphics can add additional value. “For larger organizations,” he says, “[billing] can become a strong pain point.” His company works to build customer payment platforms that accommodate their needs, but that do not add manual systems into the billing process.
Winther says that for payment, customers determine the templates they want, and Think Patented produces them. If variability, such as changing stock on a job, enters the process, an interaction regarding the change will be required. Regarding billing, he says his company currently invoices separately, but adds that, ideally, “if we print a job on the digital press, the last sheet should be the invoice.”
Increasing Value and Connection
As a tool for increasing the value a printing provider brings to its customers, the printers profiled here all indicate it has been beneficial for their businesses. Nowokunski says, in his experience, W2P systems truly build upon the partnership with a client and can “become very sticky” because the customer is not just purchasing printing, but has also invested its visual assets — and the management of them — with Boingo Graphics. Through a portal, he says, his company becomes “default brand management.”
According to Winther, part of the value is born of necessity, given recent pandemic-driven changes to the print buyer community and where they work. “We can’t visit them in the office,” he says, “so we offer them a tool to conduct business online.” He expects Think Patented’s new e-commerce portal, TPprinthub.com, to grow.
Ortiz says W2P has “absolutely” increased Prestone Printing’s value to its clientele. “We try to make it easy and expedient,” he says. “Order today, and it should be out the door tomorrow.”
While the use of W2P systems does not eliminate the need for face-to-face print sales interaction, it does change the nature of the process. Winther says there is still need for the sales relationship, such as considerations for new client projects or applications. What changes is that the more mundane work is eliminated, he points out, and the sales relationship can work at a higher level — focusing on better work. Salespeople, he says, can instead “do business development and be advisors.”
W2P helps Prestone Printing’s sales department because it gives them another route to engage their clients. Ortiz adds that less work toward engagement is needed because customers are engaged on a continuous basis. “And, for the salespeople,” he says, “they’re not chasing orders because that’s already in process.”
Nowokunski says that with the technology, “sales has become more about managing the relationship.” At Boingo Graphics, a W2P portal “is never launched and just done.” He adds that some sites have hundreds of SKUs, and that the management of portals involves account managers taking care of customers.
As to the nature of today’s print buyers, much has changed. Given that they are much more likely to be “digital natives.” It is what today’s print specifiers are used to, Ortiz points out.
“They like to stay up later and sleep in the morning,” Winther says of younger print buyers, adding that the benefits are 24/7 ease of use, and “they can do it any time of day.”
Nowokunski adds that today’s print buyers are also likely to be at a different corporate level, noting that while they used to be the CMO or director of marketing, buyers are now more likely to be marketing specialists — a lower-level person. Because of this, he says, his company “can’t put everything on W2P [platforms],” which is based on bulk transactions, as opposed to high-value custom projects.
Getting There, and Getting Better
One commonality among the companies highlighted here is that the W2P production learning curve has been minimal. Winther reveals that for Think Patented, “there was a learning curve, but it was short because this is not rocket science.” It was change, he says, and that was accepted. Ortiz also reports a small learning curve, noting the change was mainly in how the order is received and, in some cases, how the order is shipped.
For those new to W2P offerings, Nowokunski advises that basic, out-of-the-box systems are available. More complex, customized systems, he adds, require higher levels of sophistication, and likely require a developer to make it work. Asked whether extensive customer training should be an expected part of W2P implementation, he says, “if you have to train the customer, then it’s not the right tool for them.”
As a tool that will become essential for the future of commercial printing companies, industry consultant Barb Pellow, manager of Pellow & Partners, believes there are a few key things driving the move toward W2P capabilities. She says, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are working from home, which has brought about a change in perspective among end customers. Within printing facilities, issues surrounding labor are leading many to seek higher levels of automation — W2P workflows included — to minimize touch points and reduce the amount of labor required to do the job. Pellow also sees the systems as a mechanism for reducing errors by “putting the onus back in the hands of the customer.”
According to Pellow, for companies seeking to use W2P or online storefronts to expand within existing markets, or reach new ones, the approaches are multi-faceted. “When you go to sell to a client,” she says, “it’s a way for a service provider to help the customer gain control over their marketing spend.” Pellow adds that the systems can provide better job tracking and management of the “marketing supply chain.”
One of the areas where W2P tools are showing the highest degree of relevancy are with companies that serve distributed organizations or locations — as an example, franchise restaurants with multiple locations around the country. Another example, she adds, would be a national insurance company that maintains a geographically distributed sales force.
An additional change fostering wider and more rapid acceptance is generational. “The age of the workforce has changed,” Pellow says, “and so has comfort with the technology.” Referring to the older, outgoing generation as “dinosaurs,” she quips, “the dinosaurs are mostly gone,” and that W2P technologies meet the print buyer workforce as it is today.
While many view W2P simply as an automation tool — an easier way to receive jobs, and, in some cases, payment — Pellow believes the systems can transcend their efficient, transactional nature to offer a deeper customer connection. She says a well-implemented system must be aligned with the features that make any online ordering good. A chat bot or help desk can provide easy access to people. Well designed, thoughtfully created portals bring frictionless results. Use of the portal brings ongoing engagement. Because of these factors, Pellow adds, “sales teams are working at a higher level. They’re not selling print, but instead better control. They are selling the values of the new system.”
Asked if there is one misconception many printers have about W2P workflow, Pellow says she sees reticence about the systems due to confusion about the complexity of implementation, or printers who don’t think their customers need it. She believes this is outmoded thinking. “When you look at the advancements in the software out there,” she concludes, "they are not hard to implement.”