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Commentary & Analysis

Is Your Print Business Available Online?

What can your customers do online with your print business? How easy is it for your customers to do business with you? Are you asking your customers to use their precious time because your ordering process is inefficient and not available online?

By Jennifer Matt
Published: September 20, 2017

Are you still saying things like this?

  1. I am too small to require self-service options; my customers are fine with calling and emailing my team.
  2. My business is built on relationships that I make in the real world, this online stuff is for consumers shopping on Amazon.
  3. I am a small local business, I do not need to worry about my online presence, people can find me.
  4. Print is a custom manufactured product, it cannot be ordered without collaboration and expertise – the customer doesn’t know enough to order for themselves.
  5. If we move our business online we remove our chance to upsell and charge the customer what we can get away with at (hunch based pricing).
  6. This is my favorite; this is a quote I heard first hand. “I don’t want to show my customers order history or give them reports, they will know how much they are spending with me.” (oh lord).

It is 2017, none of these excuses are valid in fact they are dangerous to your ability to continue to run a successful print business. Customer expectations are crystal clear; they want online, self-service access to your business and it better work on their mobile device.

I have a small local bakery within walking distance to my home. You can now order online. Is it pleasant to walk to the local bakery? Yes, it is. Do I know many of the people who work there? Yes, I do. Did I discuss their business transformation with the owners when Whole Foods moved in down the street – yes, I did. Do I order online from them? More and more, not because I don’t like them or I don’t want to talk to them but because it saves me time. Order on my way down there and then it’s ready to pick up. They need to keep making it easier and easier on their customers so that we continue to make a special trip to their shop.

Making it easy on the customer is something the print industry could spend a lot more time investing in – let’s take just 20% of the time we spend scheming about buying the newest press or the latest laser cutter and think through what a pain in the ass printing is to buy from us!

Your customers want a price, they don’t want to submit a form (request for quote), then wait twenty-four hours for a response, ask for changes, wait another twenty four hours. Who has time for this level of coordination? Who plans this far ahead to have time to wait a week to get the order placed? I don’t know any people like that.

As a customer, I love ease-of-use and it greatly influences my spending. If you’re in the exercise class business, it is a very competitive space. There are major brands competing for the $10-$35 per class (the going rate for many exercise classes). I’m a fan of spinning (stationary bike exercise classes). I go to a local studio in San Francisco and I must say one of the best parts of the class is how easy it is to spend money with this studio. Pelo has an incredible mobile app, one of the features I love is how it allows me to keep my bike settings on the app because guess what we bring everywhere these days – our phones. When I book a class on the app, it asks me to automatically put it on my calendar. When I’m out of class credits I click a single button to add more – I don’t know how they could make it any easier to get to my money.

How many steps between you and your customers money?

Complexity is a revenue killer.

Your product can be complex, your equipment can be complex, your staff can be good at handling very complex workflows but your product CANNOT be complex to buy. Simplicity sells. When things are simple more people adopt them. You know why we’re all carrying smart phones – they don’t require you to be smart to use them!

Here’s some questions you can ask to help you assess how easy it is to buy from you:

  1. What can a current customer do when they go to your website?
  2. How easy is it for a customer to reorder something they ordered from you six months ago?
  3. What does it take to get a price quote from your company?
  4. Are you asking your customers to be good project managers (managing many interactions with you on every order)?
  5. What does a customer have to do to get a copy of an invoice or a report of their spending with you?

I’m not saying these are the most important things for your customers to be able to do but we need to start talking about the fact that for most printers – their customers cannot anything online except read a website that has a list of their press equipment.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By Jonathan Stuart on Sep 20, 2017

This is a strategically important article for everyone in our industry.

As you say, Jen, printers often insist that the customers only buy from them because of the personal interaction with a salesman, and this would be lost if the user went online.

All door-to-door salesmen used to say this: my father bought a vacuum cleaner that way, my neighbours bought their life insurance from the Man from the Pru. Neither exists any more.

One of the UK leading resellers of web2print software told me they had given up selling to printers and instead now sold direct to end-user marketing directors, because those people could see the real value of online self-service for print. That's a sad indictment of our industry!

I know that it is hard for printers to understand the value of self-service online. We have more than 1 million registered users on our web platforms, but still have to work to convince our people that this is our future. "Hunch pricing" must be the greatest enemy to progress, along with "I can't put prices online, or my competitors will see them".

Customers value speed and convenience above all else. Value and quality are assumed. They want a price in seconds, not days, they want to check their job status on a Sunday afternoon, to check and approve a proof on a public holiday. If you provide this, they really don't mind paying a few dollars more for the product. And your competitors will wonder where all the business went!


By Laurens Leurs on Sep 20, 2017

Excellent article but in a business-to-business context web-to-print has more to offer that just print. Your customers are actually getting a new and easy to use ordering and fulfillment process. Order approval can be part of that. Stock management can be in there, as well as reporting tools. Maybe a followup article can focus on these aspects.


By Greg Goldman on Sep 20, 2017

"Your customers want a price, they don’t want to submit a form (request for quote), then wait twenty-four hours for a response, ask for changes, wait another twenty four hours. Who has time for this level of coordination? Who plans this far ahead to have time to wait a week to get the order placed? I don’t know any people like that."

Spot On.


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