- 2019 marked the first time that e-commerce sales surpassed 10% of total retail sales in the United States.
- According to recent research from Keypoint Intelligence, 60% of professionals who were newly working from home due to COVID-19 and bought printing devices with their own money made these purchases online.
- In addition to providing 24/7 access to information and business tools, cloud-based solutions eliminate the need to purchase and maintain expensive on-premises servers, databases, and other technologies—potentially saving money and headaches.
By Christine Dunne
No matter what type of organization you work for, the chances are high that e-commerce is having a significant impact on your processes as well as business prospects (or the opportunity to serve customers or others). It’s more important than ever to acknowledge the impact that online selling is having on consumer andbusiness purchasing, because failure to do so will likely result in losing ground to your competitors.
The Rise of E-Commerce
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, e-commerce was already an undeniable purchasing trend. In fact, 2019 marked the first time that e-commerce sales surpassed 10% of total retail sales in the United States. Retailers like Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Apple, and The Home Depot are leading the charge toward e-commerce, and organizations across a wide range of sectors are increasingly adding e-commerce capabilities for those they serve.
With people staying home more often than ever before and frequently refraining from in-person shopping and business meetings, the pandemic is clearly accelerating the trend toward online purchasing—and selling. According to recent research from Keypoint Intelligence, 60% of professionals who were newly working from home due to COVID-19 and bought printing devices with their own money made these purchases online. This share was even higher among employees who were able to expense the purchase.
Figure 1. Printer Purchases by Newly At-Home Employees
Base: Newly at-home employees who purchased a printer for work purposes
Source: The Future of Office Survey – US: Working from Home During COVID-19, Keypoint Intelligence 2020
Basically, online buying is now the top way to acquire products and services, and this includes the full range of print offerings—consumer/office/production, printers, print consumables, print software, as well as print services. Keypoint Intelligence expects this dynamic to persist as we move into 2021, even as virus restrictions continue to ease up and a vaccine is widely administered. We also believe that once the pandemic subsides, in-person sales will not fully reclaim their once-dominant position—at least not for many companies. In-person sales will still exist in some form, but they will be more the exception rather than the rule. It has become apparent that e-commerce platforms provide a wealth of benefits to customers and stakeholders that face-to-face selling often can’t replicate, including:
- Anytime/anywhere access
- Price transparency
- The ability to view and compare all offerings side by side
- More detailed product information, including pictures, videos, and customer reviews
- Instant purchasing capabilities
- The ability to chat with customer service representatives in real time
Printing companies that have not already invested in their online portals for e-commerce would be well-advised to do so now. If they don’t, they will risk being left behind as the print industry moves into a new model. Furthermore, although many people might currently be accessing these sites on their computers (because they’re at home), there is also a growing need to optimize all sites for mobile devices.
While e-commerce is important for selling, it’s also an avenue for customer care, communication, education, and even entertainment (think Amazon Prime shows and movies). This more flexible notion of what an e-commerce site can provide has real relevance for the office and production print industries, which have a long-standing tradition of bringing manufacturers, channel partners, and customers together for product showcasing, education, networking, and deal-making.
Today, these activities can (and for the time being, must) be conducted online—similar to what was seen during this year’s PRINTING United virtual experience. In the past year, many events that had formerly occurred live were held virtually instead. Organizations like Ricoh, Canon, and EFI were suddenly forced to change how they communicated with their audiences, albeit temporarily. One would hope that as the pandemic subsides and people once again feel comfortable with large groups and travel, live trade shows will resume. Although virtual events are convenient and inexpensive, there is no replacement for the hands-on experience of being able to see and touch equipment, network with colleagues, and keep a pulse on the industry.
The rise of e-commerce and the (hopefully temporary) change in communication platforms coincides with the shift toward cloud-based software by organizations of all sizes. For example, Keypoint Intelligence’s latest U.S. Document Solutions Forecast predicts that various cloud-hosted solutions for the office print and document market (e.g., document capture/workflow, output management, content and document management) will see double-digit compound annual growth rates through 2024.
In addition to providing 24/7 access to information and business tools, cloud-based solutions eliminate the need to purchase and maintain expensive on-premises servers, databases, and other technologies—potentially saving money and headaches. Printing expenses might also come down, as employees and customers can easily gain access to information that might previously have been printed (e.g., account and transaction information for customers).
The Bottom Line
Now more than ever, organizations across the globe are being forced to implement—and recognize the benefits of providing—e-commerce options to their customers and any other groups they serve. Sellers of print-related products and services are certainly no exception to this rule. Even after the pandemic is over, Keypoint Intelligence believes that e-commerce will be a leading way (if not theleading way) for making purchases. The benefits of flexible access, speed of ordering, and the immediate availability of up-to-date information are simply too powerful to ignore.
Christine Dunne is a Consulting Editor for Keypoint Intelligence’s Office Technology & Services Group. Her responsibilities include responding to client inquiries, conducting market research and analysis, and providing coverage of industry events. Ms. Dunne has written extensively about search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.