Web-to-Print Adoption Is Key Enabler for Production Efficiencies, Recurring Revenue Streams
Have you been asking yourself, “Why should my printing company adopt a Web-to-print (W2P) solution as a channel for doing business with our customers?”
There’s a one-word answer: Amazon.
Like it or not, explains Brian Benson, founder and CEO of Benson Integrated Marketing Solutions in Atlanta, the online retailing giant sets universal expectations for ease of use and efficiency in Web-based ordering. This is why he believes that in order to compete on equal terms, his company has to stay “hyper-focused” on creating the kind of shopping experience that Amazon has taught customers everywhere to insist upon.
The market-facing aspect of W2P is the part with the most visibility, but it isn’t the only justification for embracing the technology. Fully realized, W2P is as much about process optimization on the printer’s side as it is about e-commerce convenience at the customer portal.
Betty Maul, president of FrontEnd Graphics, in Cherry Hill, N.J., is proud to point out that her digital printing business is one where “we make our money on pennies” through relentless efficiency. Order inflow via W2P removes touches — human handling and the errors it can introduce — from those jobs. “Any time I save a hand touching a job,” says Maul, “I save a penny.”
Workflow Gains: Days Become Minutes
Indeed, if there’s an argument-clinching claim to be made in favor of adopting W2P, it’s probably the boost it gives to production efficiency. According to Chad Banning, chief information officer at Phoenix-based United Printing + Mailing, before jobs started coming in this way, getting a project fully into work might have taken two or three days. “Now, it’s minutes,” he says.
A major advantage of a W2P-expedited workflow is its flexibility, notes Gary Matchinsky, owner of BCT Southwest, a franchise trade printing company based in Tempe, Ariz. He says that if order volume were to go up by, say, 40%, the administrative and processing overhead wouldn’t have to increase commensurately — the system would be able to accommodate the surge without straining.
There are efficiencies to be gained on the customer side, as well. When Artizen Print, of Dallas, set up an e-commerce portal for a chain of retail stores, Damon Daniels notes, director of R&D, the volume of orders from the customer doubled. Now, besides keeping tabs on orders placed, managers could also see “who still hasn’t ordered” the display materials that their stores needed.
All of the printers say that the W2P solutions they chose (see sidebar on page 38) have become integral to the success of their businesses, although each company has implemented the technology in its own way. This points to another fundamental fact about W2P: that getting the most out of it comes not just from keeping the pipeline filled with orders, but also from using the solution to solve problems and create new opportunities for customer engagement.
This is what United Printing + Mailing had in mind when it created a W2P-based ordering system exclusively for the use of one customer, an automobile parts manufacturer that relies on direct mail to promote its products to body shops and others in the automotive trade.
Banning says that the W2P software, which replaced a self-developed system requiring a great deal of custom programming, took pain out of online ordering for the customer, and time and cost out of getting the orders into print. Currently, 60,000 to 80,000 direct mail pieces per month originate from it.
Whatever the Traffic Will Bear
W2P solutions are volume-agnostic, and a good one will provide the same features and benefits whether all of a plant’s workload flows through it, or just some of it does.
Benson says that all of his customers — more than 13,500 active users — are ordering “a huge range of products” through the custom portals the company has built for them. As the work pours in, “we track every step of every job down to the minutes spent on nearly all aspects of the workflow, benchmarking job and parts volume by employee and customer.”
Matchinksy similarly reports that 95% of his customers are placing orders through the BCT Southwest website, which the W2P solution supports on the back end by linking the orders to the company’s MIS.
W2P utilization fluctuates at Artizen Print, according to Daniels, with about 25% to 35% of the volume coming in through the portals on an average day. Maul puts utilization at FrontEnd Graphics within the same general range, noting that customers don’t necessarily say “yes” to W2P overnight. It took her four years, she says, to win over one account that is now one of the system’s most committed users.
In Maul’s experience with W2P, which she first began using in 2009, “anything that goes into a marketing bucket” is fair game for online ordering and fulfillment. Although FrontEnd Graphics specializes in custom work, she encourages clients to spec their jobs to fit the formats of the shop’s digital presses. When W2P works hand-in-hand with production in this way, she says, “it’s a very efficient way to think about print.”
W2P solutions are built around standardized templates that give users room for creativity without impeding the processing of their jobs. In Artizen Print’s W2P workflow, Daniels notes, everything is templated — the best arrangement for Artizen’s multilevel marketing customers and others who want to maintain brand consistency above all.
Shift of Responsibility
Banning may also be speaking for many other printers when he observes that United Printing + Mailing isn’t performing as much creative work for customers as it used to, that task having been reclaimed by the customers themselves.
The company’s automotive customer gets to do this by selecting “amenities” within the layouts presented by the W2P solution, which generates a proof and a print-ready file once everything is satisfactory.
Because the heart of W2P is software, integration with a printer’s existing systems and resources will be necessary. In the cases described here, the W2P solutions mesh to various extents with the plants’ MIS, estimating and production routines. Benson says that, at his company, the integration of the W2P workflow is total: “We even collect the sales tax.”
In Benson’s view, true integration isn’t achieved unless the e-commerce storefront is part of a holistic “technology stack” that also combines MIS, accounting, cross-media marketing and business intelligence (BI) reporting. To reap the full benefit of the latter, users must be able to access the stack via single sign-on (SSO) to all of its components.
“Trying to manage multiple platforms inherently erodes the ability to have BI at your fingertips,” Benson says. “Pulling data from various systems and dropping it into Excel is not BI.”
In no case did getting the solution up and running fail to go as planned. In fact, the technology has advanced to a point where achieving success with it may be more about people than it is about programming.
Absolutely necessary, points out Benson, is management support for W2P from the top of the organization down. Maul believes the most critical element is persuading customers to train their personnel to fully utilize what the system has to offer them.
No matter how richly featured a W2P solution is, it can’t live up to its potential if people don’t know what it can do. “It’s the only time we’ve seen it fail,” Maul says.
Reward Is Recurring Revenue Stream
But, when W2P and online storefront workflows work, they can pay off handsomely. Given that e-commerce connections also give customers an easy way to reorder, the income from these transactions, as Matchinsky puts it, “is the closest thing to recurring revenue” that a printer will see. Maul agrees that ease of use “strengthens our rapport with our clients,” encouraging them to purchase more.
Benson Integrated Marketing Solutions has a clear yardstick for the return on its investment in W2P: sales per employee. The figure is twice as high for online accounts as it is for off-line, non-automated orders.
That’s not the only revenue opportunity that W2P has made possible, according to Benson. The fees his company charges users for special services, such as custom portal setup and business intelligence reporting, help to offset the cost of operating the solution. Reprising his Amazon analogy, Benson likens the fees to the premium that millions of online shoppers are willing to pay for the helpful extra features of Amazon Prime.
That is one indication of the “stickiness” that W2P can add to a printing company’s account relationships: the perception of customer care that makes clients reluctant to take their business to other providers.
Matchinsky says that the volume coming into BCT Southwest via W2P represents “our safest, most profitable work.” Daniels notes that when Artizen Print clients have their “Wow, we can do this!” moment upon trying W2P, the one-stop shopping opportunity also becomes clear. “They don’t want to send stuff everywhere,” he says.
Maul, however, cautions that in trying to make their customers stickier with W2P, printers should take care that they don’t leave them feeling that they’re being locked in. She says printers must also remember that customer requirements can change quickly and that a W2P solution incapable of keeping up with them won’t inspire much loyalty.
Web-to-Nowhere? Don’t Go There
These seasoned W2P users have practical advice for printers exploring the technology for the first time. Noting that all online procurement systems are not created equal and that none of them are perfect, Benson says a distinction exists between “Web-to-print” solutions that truly connect printers to customers and “Web-to-nowhere” solutions that fail to.
Make sure your accounting system will be integrable with the solution you intend to install, advises Matchinsky. Daniels recommends assigning responsibility for W2P to “somebody who understands print and the Web, and that may be two different people.”
As for selecting the right software, Banning observes that while there are a few W2P solutions that “everybody knows about,” these packages can be expensive and laden with features that a shop might not necessarily need. In any case, warns Daniels, “if a software company promises the moon, stay away.”
Web-to-print won’t be an out-of-the-box cure-all for printing companies that aren’t working efficiently with the systems and equipment they already have. Even for companies that are well-prepared, tweaking a W2P solution to full functionality and winning customer acceptance for it can be, as Maul says, “a long and arduous process.”
But, given what W2P can accomplish when correctly implemented, there’s no arguing with Banning’s assertion that “it’s a necessary component of business today.”
Patrick Henry is the director of Liberty or Death Communications. He is also a former Senior Editor at NAPCO Media and long time industry veteran.