Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant

Woman online shoppingSome of the most interesting questions and debates in our industry ask why specific technologies—especially those considered essential to the future of the industry—are not catching on more quickly. We heard the same questions a few years ago when some industry pundits said that offset printing presses that image the plates on the press were the future of the industry. The same questions and debates are occurring today as experts say that online ordering, one feature of the web-to-print solution, is essential for the future of the industry.

If the truth be told however, there are both advantages and challenges associated with web-to-print solutions. In addition to the shopping cart, other advantages include reducing manufacturing costs and offering more valuable solutions.  But there are challenges too. For example, it does not come cheap, it doesn’t work for everyone, and even companies that ultimately claim they are successful often make significant mistakes before achieving success.

It is claimed that a web-to-print solution can automate the estimating process, which is both accurate and misleading. A web-to-print solution can provide price sheet-based pricing but it cannot provide complex estimates requiring elaborate finishing, mailing and fulfillment requirements or multiple shipping locations.

Web-to-print can automate and streamline internal processes which can help drive down the manufacturing costs especially for commoditized products such as stationery products. The internal production services that can be impacted by web-to-print solutions include estimating, job ticketing, tracking and billing.  These are typically available as modules that you can buy separately. But the more modules, the more expensive the implementation and the greater the likelihood of integration issues with other systems.

Another benefit of web-to-print is that like ordering from other e-commerce sites a customer can monitor the progress of their order such as monitoring the shipments. But some people feel that offering a web-to-print solution, which reduces the personal communication of customer service staff, hurts their value proposition. They feel that an essential part of what they offer is based on the relationship, the personal conversations and the give and take collaborations that occur throughout the job.

Another consideration that can confuse the decision to buy is trying to figure out if you want a business-to-business or business-to-consumer product. For example, the template-based solution for business cards are often sold as a business-to-business solution to large enterprise customers. While the templated-based solutions for photo books is usually sold as a consumer product.

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages, which are complex and intertwined. We talked about this in a recent webinar and heard both sides of the story.  And we are wondering what others have experienced. In other words:

  • Has web-to-print worked for you?
  • Do you consider it a success?
  • If it hasn’t worked, or isn’t a success, do you know why? Was it a sales issue, a production issue, an integration issue or something else?
  • Inquisitive minds want to know!

Howard Fenton is a consultant and business advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.