Are you Seeing the Pros or the Cons of Web-to-Print?

Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant
NAPL

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!

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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.

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7 Comments

  1. Nick Zgorski December 18, 2012 - Reply

    We haven’t gone the route of web-to-print yet. In my personal life I can see many of the benefits but it might not make sense for all businesses.

    At Strouse ordering our products isn’t as simple as finding the product you want and clicking buy. We often inquire a great deal about our customers applications before recommending the best solution.

    I’m not saying it will never happen in the future, but for some businesses it just isn’t practical.

    • Bill Michael December 19, 2012 - Reply

      Nick – thank you for the great feedback. Despite strong indications that we are headed more towards web-to-print – and the many benefits that coincide with it – there are definitely circumstances where it may not be the right fit for your business. You mention working closely with your customers and their applications prior to recommending solutions – and that is a great way to form strong relationships and allow for your company to make recommendations based on your expertise.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  2. Pop up exhibition stands December 19, 2012 - Reply

    Brill article thx for sharing this

    • Bill Michael December 19, 2012 - Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and glad you enjoyed the content!

  3. Howie Fenton December 19, 2012 - Reply

    Thanks everyone for your feedback. I still wonder about this question “Is there something missing that would make web to print more viable for you?”

  4. Walter Payne December 19, 2012 - Reply

    Howie in today’s business climate it is hard for me to fathom that web-to-print is not an integral part of a print company’s service offering. The beauty of this technology lies in how you help a client use it to benefit the growth of their business as well as providing the opportunity to streamline the support of the clients sales team.

    In fact, I don’t think it necessarily has to be just for the large organization…if you know how to sell it. It can benefit almost any size organization provided your operational systems are in place to support the on demand orders.

    The key to anything you sell is your own ability to understand how it can be used for your client’s business and your ability to have systems in place to support what you’ve sold!

    It never is about us!

  5. Howie Fenton December 20, 2012 - Reply

    Walter, why am I not surprised to hear that you are a advocate of what print? You have been one of the early pioneers for years. And like the West-wood bound pioneers, when you first started you too were hit by some of the arrows in your back.

    I remember visiting your shop years ago and watching your company go through the trials and tribulations in the successful implementation of a web to print solution. But you were a true believer, and never took no for an answer. You overcame the big 3 issues which are: implementation and integration issues with the manufacturer, the reluctance of your own staff, and of course the buy-in from the customers.

    As a result it has become a cornerstone of your business and I often point to your company as an early adopter and a case history of a successful implementation.

    Thanks for your contribution.

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