Web-to-Print Paves a New Path to Efficiency and Growth
As print providers look for ways to expand their services, enhance customer experiences, and automate processes, Web-to-print (W2P) services are becoming increasingly crucial in helping them reach these goals.
According to NAPCO Research’s 2023 Annual Commercial Print Industry Trends and Strategies Service, more than half of the 115 companies surveyed report their companies are:
- Automating workflows 68%
- Focusing marketing/technology investments
to differentiate 61%
- Moving into adjunct print markets 56%
- Expanding services 54%
- Forming partnerships to complement print offerings 51%
Offering W2P services (e.g., online ordering, automated workflows, real-time process management, cost control, communication e-commerce) allows print providers to strengthen customer relationships, automate production, grow revenue, automate, and expand services.
Because W2P includes all client touch points — from job quotes, to submission, to order management, to delivery — it is a key influencer of a customer’s experience in working with a print provider. Given its importance, NAPCO Research frequently includes questions on W2P in its ongoing surveys of communication buyers and influencers (print users), and print providers. This article will combine survey research and print provider interviews to highlight the trends and benefits of offering W2P storefronts/portals.
Enhancing Customer Experiences
Offering customers W2P services is one way that Boingo Graphics in Charlotte, North Carolina, enhances its customers’ experiences. According to the company’s president, Scott Nowokunski, “Our goal is to provide the best customer experience of any printing company in the world.”
An early adopter of W2P, Nowokunski says his company is modeling its service experience to be like Amazon. “When you order something from Amazon, it can be delivered that day, you know where it is in the process at all times, and you get confirmations for ordering, shipping, and delivery,” he explains. “We plan to continue to build out our infrastructure to be as transparent and friction-free as possible with customers.”
Nowokunski adds, “Customers expect online ordering options and all of our top clients use it to varying degrees — sometimes it is a 100% of their transactions, other times it’s 5%.”
He cites two types of customers that need W2P:
1. Smaller organizations that want to streamline and automate the ordering process to reduce the number of steps required to place an order.
2. Larger organizations with more complex needs. For example, Nowokunski shares how his company created a portal for a healthcare facility during the COVID-19 pandemic that started off with six items, but when it was finished offered the client close to 100 items. “The number of transactions from that customer portal was phenomenal and that really fed us through the pandemic,” he reports.
Turning Points in Demand
Two turning points that accelerated demand for customized storefronts, observes Natalie Ross, senior director of Enterprise Solutions at O’Neil Printing in Phoenix, are Amazon Prime and COVID-19 because both of these occurrences demonstrated the value of speed to market and accessibility of online ordering to the masses.
More than a decade ago, the 115-year-old company launched O’Neil Direct (OND), its service for creating customized online storefronts. What started in response to addressing a client challenge in managing inventory has blossomed into an online, customizable W2P storefront service where customers can organize, manage, edit, and maintain consistent branding across a variety of commercial printing, signage, and promotional products.
OND has evolved its capabilities in tandem with customer demands and now supports 45 customized customer storefronts, a number that Ross says is continually growing. She reports that many clients and prospects are now inquiring about customized storefronts, whether they are a good fit for their business or not. “But before creating a storefront for a customer, we thoroughly review their requirements to make sure it is the right fit for their business needs,” she points out.
Ross’ job title — senior director of Enterprise Solutions — is not a common one among printing companies, and is possibly a signal for industry change as the adoption of technology solutions and customized W2P portals increases. She started at O’Neil a little over a year ago and has deep experience in W2P portals, brand management, direct mail campaigns, signage, promotional products, and technology service offerings.
“Any printing company that does not offer W2P services needs to start,” Ross advises. “It will be a key component of future success, and it will be hard to meet client needs without it,” she explains.
DMS Color: Founded on W2P
DMS Color, Pelham, Alabama, started its printing business with the goal of providing W2P services to larger corporations to optimize production and distribution of marketing collateral and materials.
The company built its own W2P platform called DigiFLO, which supports more than 100 Web portals and 35,000 users.
According to DMS Color CEO and CTO Matthew Greer, the company recently executed its first licensing agreement for DigiFLO, and is considering offering its use to other printing companies. The platform offers companies the ability to grow their product portfolios and business without being a franchise or having to make significant capital investments.
“We are looking at a different type of Web-to-print offering where we give a print provider a platform to run their business at significantly reduced costs, and with access to a whole bevy of other products and production methods as well,” he says.
Greer shares that DMS Color has invested heavily in equipment to offer printing embellishment and packaging, which other print providers may want to offer to their customers.
He believes many companies look at W2P only as a vehicle for processing an order online, but it can be an extremely powerful tool when considering how companies like Shutterfly and Vistaprint have implemented it.
The missing piece of the print e-commerce puzzle, he notes, is connecting producers with other producers. “There is always something else a customer wants or print provider wants to offer. With our first license of DigiFLO our mindset is to connect what we can offer to the market with what other print providers can offer.”
Surveys Say Customers Favor W2P
NAPCO Research frequently surveys communication buyers and influencers (print users), and print providers on W2P trends, demand, and services print providers are developing.
A NAPCO Research study (sponsored by Canon U.S.A.), titled “Enhancing the Print Customer Connection,” surveyed more than 200 communication buyers and influencers, and asked various questions on job submission and preferences. A key finding of this research is that communication buyers and influencers prefer —and use —a variety of options for submitting print work. As shown in Figure 1, two-thirds (67%) of communication buyers/influencers report using an online ordering system, and more than half upload files (56%) or email (55%) job files to print providers.
The survey reveals that many organizations prefer the flexibility offered by using multiple methods to submit print work. This finding indicates that job submission via email, uploading files through FTP, online file sharing services, and even physical storage media haven’t disappeared.
Email and file uploads are popular job submission methods because communication buyers find them easy to use and a fast way to submit work. While respondents value email and file uploading systems, they recognize they don’t offer the same level of benefits provided by customized online storefronts, such as the ability to centrally manage and track their print work and spending.
It’s important to recognize that not all print customers need a customized storefront. Ross says the best candidates for a dedicated storefront are organizations with multiple locations that require brand consistency with marketing collateral, need support managing inventory and supply chain logistics, and expect business growth.
Online Ordering is Key Customer Preference
Two survey findings (Figure 2) pointing to the importance of print providers offering online job submission are:
- 73% of communication buyers and influencers report when selecting print providers, it is very important they provide online submission capabilities.
- 85% of communication buyers and influencers prefer to work with providers that offer online ordering options that enable better control of print spending and brand management.
Buyers Value W2P Benefits
Communication buyers value many of the benefits W2P systems deliver. More than half of communication buyers participating in the same NAPCO Research survey value services that enable better management and visibility of their print orders and costs (Figure 3). Almost three-quarters (72%) report that placing print orders at any time is highly valuable. In addition, more than half deem real-time access to print job status, cost tracking, and price quotes as valuable to their organizations.
These research findings indicate that today’s communication buyers demand higher levels of management control over their print ordering and spending. Organizations that use print are under enormous pressure to better manage and cost-justify all of their communication investments — from brochures, to signage, to promotional products, to digital media.
As the responsibilities of communication buyers have increased, organizations are looking to work with suppliers that offer customers tools and processes — like W2P storefronts — to better access, manage, create, and control print production and spending.
Many of these organizations no longer employ full-time, dedicated print buyers; instead they have staff responsible for handling multiple media formats. This shift in who is ordering print is prompting print providers to offer customized Web portals that enable organizations to order and manage printed materials and beyond.
Organizations that centralize ordering and management of all types of communication products to a single Web portal/storefront enable customers to better manage and control ordering, inventory, spending, costs, and branding.
Research on Web Portals
To uncover market trends and customer demands that are fueling development and use of customized Web portals, NAPCO Research conducted a study titled “Web Portals, New Path to Print Profitability,” sponsored by Propago. The research is based on the survey responses of more than 100 commercial printers that offer Web portals/storefronts.
The survey focused on capturing commercial printers’ experiences with offering Web portals, defined as a customized/branded online portal configured to the specific needs of each client, and can feature Web-to-print and other marketing asset management capabilities.
Nearly all (89%) of survey respondents offer customers access to customized Web portals for order entry and materials management, while 8% plan to offer them in the future and 3% have no plans to offer them (Figure 4). These portals are branded to customers, and are specifically configured to meet their needs in offering access to a wide variety of products — from print to promotional items to apparel.
More than half of survey respondents report their customers order the following items through their Web portals: marketing collateral (86%), direct mail (71%), promotional products (65%), signage (61%), forms and manuals (57%), and digital marketing (53%). About one-third of survey respondents report offering apparel items via Web portals.
This research finding points to a shift in print providers expanding online ordering capabilities to develop Web portals/storefronts that support all types of client marketing and communication assets, whether they are produced in-house or outsourced.
Benefits of Offering Web Portals
Survey respondents identified a wealth of benefits in offering customized Web portals that span improving operational efficiency, increasing sales, pursuing larger clients, moving into new customer markets, and enhancing services.
Respondents report that offering customized Web portals delivers many benefits to their organization, from sales growth, to production advantages, to strengthening customer loyalty. As shown in Figure 5, respondents report that offering customized Web portals resulted in strengthening customer relationships, increasing sales from clients, shortening the customer buying process, reducing labor costs, increasing print order volume, enabling organizations to go after and win larger clients, expanding services, and protecting against customer vendor consolidations.
In the next two years, survey respondents that offer customers access to customized Web portals expect revenue from those portals to increase, on average, 12%.
Offering W2P portals strengthened Boingo Graphics’ client partnerships, Nowokunski says, because customers typically use portals to manage all of their communication assets, not just print. Through a portal, he says, his company becomes “default brand management.”
Boingo Graphics maintains about 130 portals, and it’s growing. He says Web portals can increase customer retention because it makes it easier for clients to order and manage items, while making a printing company part of customers’ marketing and communication ecosystem.
More complex jobs, Nowokunski adds, may fall outside the capabilities of a portal because “we automate the mundane so we can spend time on the complex.” The hardest part of setting up a portal, he says, is “identifying the true pain and the workflows that need to be created to be successful.”
Nowokunski points out that it takes a different skill set to be successful with offering W2P solutions. He believes organizations need to have a dedicated person to manage the process. In turn, Boingo Graphics has a director of e-commerce and a support team. “When you are combining promotional products with print-on-demand with a purchase order system with different department codes and approvals and things like that, you need talented staff that map those things out and identify the best solutions,” he explains.
Offering customers W2P services is becoming a mandatory ingredient for print providers’ success because it enhances customer experiences, communication effectiveness and efficiency, and service delivery. Print providers with strong W2P offerings are strengthening customer relationships, increasing automation levels, and more easily expanding their services beyond print.
W2P is a key component for meeting customer expectations to work with print providers that offer a broad mix of services, smooth onboarding, easy order submission processes, ongoing communication, effective job management, value-added services, and security measures.
Lisa Cross is the principal analyst of NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media) where she conducts market research and analysis on emerging trends and changing dynamics in the commercial, in-plant and packaging industries, and the market forces that are driving those changes. With decades of experience covering the graphic arts and marketing industries, Cross has authored thousands of articles on a variety of topics, including technology trends, business strategy, sales, marketing and legislation.