By Rick Mandel
Many corporate customers of wide-format printing companies also buy smaller printed collateral from other commercial print providers through the web. This has raised the question: why don’t sign shops empower their customers to buy large-format graphics from them online, too?
After all, such an arrangement would add value in terms of shopping convenience for busy customers. It would also help the sign shops, given large-format digital printing in itself is no longer sufficiently distinctive an offering to prevent customers from looking around for other suppliers.
The evolution of WTP
The best-known example of e-commerce today may be Amazon, but web-to-print (WTP) has also been a reality for years now. In its simplest form, it merely involves a web-based storefront for purchasing specific printed items in various quantities. An artist, for example, might use a ‘static’ website to sell prints. As with Amazon, a customer simply visits the site, places an order and receives a delivery.
In a more advanced example, it has become common in the direct mail industry for customers to visit a website, choose a template, upload addresses and any other variable data, choose a number of pieces and have them shipped to their target audience. This allows some degree of customization.
More complicated project-input websites allow greater creativity. Customers fill in their information, get a quote, upload their own design files and pay for the printing and delivery of their requested projects. In some cases, they are even able to view their works-in-progress.
In these ways, the job-submission scenarios that are possible with web-based portals can enhance the relationship between print service provider (PSP) and client by making it easier and more convenient for both to do business. There is also an opportunity, however, to change the purchasing dynamics for corporate clients, driving the print business in a different direction than the classic process of ‘bid, transfer file, proof and print.’
A workflow advantage
Many corporate clients have invested heavily in graphic design content that can be used across a variety of marketing segments. WTP can tap into these imagery assets by repurposing them for previously underused applications. This is a highly beneficial service to be able to offer to brand marketers.
Marketing executives, after all, are tasked with protecting their brands, ensuring graphic consistency among logos, typefaces and predetermined layouts and leveraging target marketing. With a unique WTP portal that has been customized to their needs, they can accomplish all of these tasks in a smoother, more seamless fashion than was possible in the past.
To be sure, some types of business are still better-handled personally, but there are also many specific printed products that fit well into a web portal workflow. With the development of a client-specific WTP gateway, the customer can specify customized prints based on its own graphics and the sign shop’s format templates (e.g. a standard-size banner), eliminating some of the traditional pre-press and proofing steps.
By way of example, consider a company that needs to supply customized point-of-purchase (POP) graphics to a fast-food restaurant chain. A web portal would be designed to help it update ‘meal deal’ posters with predetermined images of main dishes, side dishes and beverages (which could involve co-op advertising with Coca-Cola or Pepsi), along with a dedicated space for the price to appear. The brand marketer in question could visit the site, build a new layout through a series of choices, approve the final version, activate payment and send the custom high-resolution file to the sign shop’s printer for production.