When was the last time you purchased something online?
No longer is it a question of, “Have you ever purchased something online?” but, “How often do you purchase items online?” (We’re pleading the fifth on that answer.)
The convenience of easy online ordering has attracted many. According to Statista, the number of users in the e-commerce market is expected to grow from 163.5 million in 2015, to 170.4 million in 2016, to 189.4 million in 2020.
Safe to say, a digital shift has occurred in the mind of the consumer. And that shift is making its way into the print industry. “Businesses will not be able to ignore the trend toward online shopping,” said Brian Meshkati, vice president of Markham, Ontario-based SinaLite.com. “Print distributors will set up an online presence to take advantage of this trend and to expand their potential customers beyond their own local town [or] city.”
Teaming up with a web-to-print (W2P) supplier is an effective way to take advantage of this trend and reach new customers.
Bruce Mars, president of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based BCT, and Meshkati explained why distributors should delve into the world of W2P and how to find the right W2P partner to help their businesses grow.
For distributors, time is money.
The more time distributors have to develop relationships with their clients, the easier it is to determine which products would make for successful campaigns, and the more likely they are to get repeat or referred business.
The quicker distributors can turn around answers for their clients, the happier their clients are, and the more likely they are to get repeat or referred business.
And with W2P suppliers, distributors save time—and, thus, money. “Distributors are much less reliant on the W2P supplier’s business hours because the supplier’s storefront is online 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Meshkati said.
And, instead of waiting 24 to 48 hours for a quote, distributors can get quotes for their jobs in seconds, he explained. Instead of waiting for regular business hours, they can check pricing and place orders when it’s convenient for them.
While a solid relationship is essential for any supplier-distributor partnership, the W2P supplier allows for more automation and convenience. “In particular, we’ve seen the online Web stores offered by suppliers become much more sophisticated and user-friendly,” Meshkati said.
With SinaLite.com, distributors can check the exact status of their orders, generate shipping quotes and see how long it would take to receive their orders, track packages during delivery, and earn automatic reward points for their orders. “All of these changes have led to a much better and improved shopping experience for distributors, allowing them to spend less time placing orders and more time on selling and making money,” he noted.
“We have found that if you build a site that is easy to use and reliable, that you tend to retain customers for a longer period of time,” Mars said, emphasizing the importance of an effective, automated process.
BCT’s W2P solution also is customizable (as opposed to a one-off site), which ensures brand consistency for distributors, strengthens supplier-distributor relationships, and leads to fewer errors, misspellings and headaches for distributors, Mars specified.
But the benefits of using a W2P supplier aren’t just Web-based. “Print distributors need a valued [W2P] partner, like BCT, that can take charge of building the sites, producing the orders, delivering the orders to the end-user and providing ship notifications or information from the shipments to trigger the billing process,” Mars explained. “The less that print distributor[s] need to be involved after the sale, [the more that it] will free them up to make additional sales calls and build their business[es].”
Meshkati agreed. “Simply said, a W2P supplier saves the distributor a lot of time,” he said. “Distributors can use this time toward more productive activities, such as running their business[es] and finding new customers.”
The digital world grows at an astounding pace. For this reason, keeping up with the technology of e-commerce is essential—and also one of the leading challenges facing the W2P sector.
Part of the difficulty in this stems from popular e-commerce sites, like Amazon, that integrate the most advanced technology and features on their websites, Meshkati said. “As such, consumers begin to expect similar capabilities in all of their online shopping experiences, including printing,” he explained. Suppliers and distributors, then, need to ensure they stay up to date on these technologies, watching what others are doing and making sure they’re addressing the needs of their own customers, Meshkati suggested.
As an example, look at the rise of the smartphone—something that has affected nearly every industry. Yes, printing, too.
“More and more consumers and our customers are doing their business and their research on their phones,” Meshkati said. “They have busy schedules and are always on the move. As a result, having a mobile-friendly e-commerce website has become a necessity.”
So, what did SinaLite.com do? It made its content and website mobile-friendly.
The tremendous growth and popularity of the digital-verse also has presented issues of security. “Security is something that is very important to us at BCT, and we monitor our systems at many levels to avoid all possible intrusions from the outside,” Mars said.
In addition to using outside firms to certify PCI compliance of the sites and only working with online payment sites that make security a priority, BCT’s development and support team stays ahead of new software and security releases. “The industry is constantly improving software and hardware to try and stay ahead of the outside attacks,” he noted.
Another challenge that arises from doing business online is the loss of more personal communication. Specifically, Meshkati explained, distributors may be more reluctant to build trust and foster relationships with a W2P supplier when it lacks a physical presence. “It’s easier for a consumer to trust a business if they can actually visit [its] location and see the faces of [its] employees,” Meshkati said.
For this reason, it’s essential to partner with a W2P supplier that utilizes more sophisticated websites and stays in touch with distributors’ needs. “Online printing companies can respond to this challenge by offering a well-designed website, allowing customers to speak easily to customer service representatives, and also maintaining a social media presence,” he continued.
Building the Future
In addition to necessary technological advancements, distributors need to make sure W2P suppliers have the proper equipment and product selection to meet their needs. “Our goal is to offer our distributors every advantage possible that lets them look good in front of their customers and to increase their sales,” Meshkati explained. Recently, SinaLite.com added another sheetfed perfector press to its press room, significantly increasing its production capacity and allowing next-day turnaround on many popular products at no additional cost.
BCT also regularly incorporates new features and functions, including new product offerings, based on data and distributors’ requests, Mars said. “This is where we watch for trends in the marketplace,” he explained. “We follow the data to see what part[s] of our offerings are growing or not. […] We also use the data to add services that are in demand, such as brochures, pocket folders and a myriad of finishing solutions.”
Meshkati corroborated the importance of working with a W2P supplier that integrates new products into its rotation. SinaLite.com recently introduced roll labels and stickers into its product offerings, Meshkati noted. “This has given our distributors the option of a whole new revenue source by expanding their own product lines beyond the traditional print products and signage,” he said.
It’s time to hit the books. Well, more like: It’s time to surf the Web. Once distributors make the decision to embrace e-commerce, they need to research potential W2P supplier partners.
Distributors must make sure the supplier is “a reputable brand in the industry,” Meshkati said. He suggested performing a Web search on the supplier to look for positive reviews from other distributors and to confirm the company has been in operation for several years. While sifting through Internet results, distributors should also look at the resources and guides, like artwork template guides and best practices, available on suppliers’ websites.
W2P suppliers also must have a strong, dedicated customer support team, Meshkati said. This would include multiple channels, such as telephone, email and live chat.
But distributors should verify the quality of the product, process and service for themselves. “Contact the supplier and ask them to send you a sample kit of [its] work so you can actually see the products you would be ordering,” Meshkati advised. “If you are happy with the product you see, place a small order to start and to test their turnarounds and quality—for example, 1,000 business cards.”
Mars echoed the importance of distributors partnering with a well-rounded W2P supplier that specifically meets their needs. “Look for a vendor that can help present a demo to the customer working as their technology partner, and someone who will help teach them the best questions to ask when setting up a site for the first time,” Mars said.
“The distributor should partner with a print provider who is well-versed in all aspects of printing, has the ability to customize websites to meet the end-users’ needs, and provides a reliable system,” he continued. “A reliable print provider as a partner will make the experience for the distributor and [its] customer a much easier process from start to finish.”