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The rise of e-commerce and the growing demand for web-to-print

The rise of e-commerce and the growing demand for web-to-print

In March 2015 an article published by popular news website TechCrunch pointed out how web-centric today’s global economy is: “In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”

These are interesting times for an industry that produces physical products. Yet this doesn’t mean there is any less demand for manufactured products – after all, Uber still relies on cars and Alibaba relies on goods being sold. What it does mean, is that the way we do business has changed and the customer interface is becoming more important than ever.

Take the retail market as an example. E-commerce is expected to account for 6.7% ($106.6 billion) of the global retail market in 2015 and is forecast to grow to 8.8% of that market by 2018¹. Naturally, the popularity of e-commerce and its rate of growth vary from region to region. Five European countries are in the global top ten in terms of adoption. The UK leads with e-commerce expected to account for 14.4% of total UK retail sales in 2015, followed by 10.7% in Norway, 10.4% in Finland, 9.3% in Denmark and 8.4% in Germany².

In a world where consumers increasingly expect to be able to do everything – from booking a taxi through to weekly grocery shopping – online, the business world needs to evolve too, and this is true for the print industry as much as any other. Regardless of whether they are selling direct to consumers, to other businesses or to other in-house departments, the way that print industry professionals do business is changing.

Growing demand for web-to-print

One of the ways growing numbers of in-house and commercial print service providers (PSPs) are adapting to the growth of e-commerce is by introducing web-to-print services into their offerings. Aside from enabling increased convenience, efficiency and accuracy, web-to-print brings with it a number of benefits for PSPs and their customers alike.

Print buying today tends not to be a dedicated job function, but rather one that is done by a wide range of professionals from marketers and agency creatives through to customer relationship executives and finance teams. Web-to-print solutions can help PSPs to support relationships with these new print buyers by simplifying print buying for them and giving them greater control. Other benefits cited by print buyers include speed, cost efficiency and the capability to actively manage assets and monitor version control. For many print buyers however, having the ability to commission relatively short runs, adjust layout and content themselves, and ultimately increase their control over brand consistency, is what is most appealing.

Yet despite this, less than 40% of PSPs expect the growth of e-commerce to have a positive impact on their businesses³. Additionally, according to research commissioned for Canon’s 2014 Insight Report, PSPs believe that on average only 10% of their customers are using their web-to-print services⁴.

In contrast, of the 277 print buyers surveyed across EMEA in research commissioned by Canon in 2014, 30% are using web-to-print services to purchase print⁵. This represents a growth of more than 50% since 2012⁶, when only 21% of print buyers said that they were using web-to-print⁷.

The need to educate customers

It seems that where print buyers are aware of the benefits of web-to-print services, they are using them, and that lack of awareness is the primary barrier to more widespread use of web-to-print. 39% of print buyers surveyed in 2014 were simply unaware of the availability of web-to-print services⁸, highlighting a substantial need for PSPs to proactively educate existing and potential customers about the benefits of web-to-print.

In fact, insufficient promotion of web-to-print’s benefits contributes to a number of PSPs having underutilised web-to-print offerings. In 2014, 29% of the 275 PSPs – both in-house and external – surveyed for Canon’s 2014 Insight Report were offering web-to-print services⁹. However, according to InfoTrends, in the same year only 19% of total print volumes in Europe were being submitted through web portals and this was only expected to increase to 22.3% over two years¹⁰.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that while 27.4% of European PSPs in 2012 were planning to invest in a web-to-print solution within two years¹¹, by 2014 only 4% of those surveyed for Canon’s Insight Report were planning to add web-to-print services¹². While some of this decrease can be attributed to PSPs already having invested in a solution, it is also indicative that, for some PSPs, investing in a web-to-print solution has become something of a grudge purchase.

Build it, tell them and then they will come

Buyer-education aside, one of the reasons a web-to-print solution may fail to deliver hoped-for increases in print volumes is often that the investment was made with a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. Web-to-print solutions do help to drive increased print volumes, increase customer satisfaction and improve customer loyalty¹³, but PSPs need to recognise that the solution alone won’t do this. It is vital to plan from the outset how the investment will be used to add value, how the overall workflow will be optimised to make the most of the solution, and how the solution will be promoted to existing and potential customers.

There can obviously be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to web-to-print because every PSP has different reasons for investing in it. However, one underlying consideration should always apply – a decision to invest in web-to-print should be part of a drive to offer new services or meet an existing need or demand from customers, and this should be carefully built into the business plan and then actively promoted.

For a print business, one approach might be to ensure that they have one or more customers ready to use web-to-print before introducing the service. By doing so, their investment will be able to quickly begin generating a return and they may even be able to use this success story to promote the idea to other customers. The in-house print department of an investment bank on the other hand will have different considerations. For them, rolling out a web-to-print service across the organisation will help to increase brand protection, prevent uncontrolled print buying and unwieldy numbers of print providers, and potentially even increase version control and security.

Ultimately however, although a web-to-print offering is increasingly an expectation from some print buyers, it is clear from the number of buyers who are unaware of web-to-print that there is a lot of work for PSPs to do in promoting it. Demonstrating the value of your web-to-print services is vital, because unless you highlight the benefits it could offer to customers and potential customers, they won’t use it. Marketing, whether to customers or other internal departments, is vital for any business, but is sadly often overlooked by busy PSPs.

Whether your print business or department is only just beginning to consider web-to-print or is looking for ways to get more from an existing web-to-print solution, Canon’s business coaching and mentoring programme can help you find the right approach for your business. To find out about independent consultancy, workshops and other tools and resources, contact your local Canon account manager.

¹ eMarketer, December 2014,
² eMarketer, December 2014,
³ European Investment Survey: Hardware Investment Plans and Strategic Directions, InfoTrends, 2015
⁴ Building your future with print, Canon, 2014
⁵ Building your future with print, Canon, 2014
⁶ Ibid
⁷ Your customers’ view on the value of print, Canon, 2012
⁸ Building your future with print, Canon, 2014
⁹ Ibid
¹⁰ European Investment Survey: Hardware Investment Plans and Strategic Directions, InfoTrends, 2015
¹¹ European Software Investment Outlook, InfoTrends, 2012
¹² Building your future with print, Canon, 2014
¹³ Web to Print Drives Print Volume and Ensures Economic Viability, InfoTrends, 2014

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