Online Printing – My Story – Part 3!
The growth and potential of online printing
If customers are to use an online printing service it needs to offer something better than traditional ordering methods – whether that is price, convenience, speed, quality or service – or a combination of them all.
Most printing businesses are constantly having to meet this demand and adapt to the world of online and digital printing.
Fortunately, both are rapidly growing markets.
The combination of a bricks and mortar unit and an online store is an attractive package to the customer because it adds credibility.
Location is playing an increasingly important part in the most recent search results.
There is still a national market for online print companies but the best potential is now with a regional or local offering if you are based in a city centre.
Online printing is estimated to be growing at an annual compound growth rate of over 7% and location is now a prominent search criteria.
The percentage of print orders being placed through print providers websites has increased from 3% in 2001 to something like 30% today.
It is too large a factor to ignore – most modern buyers want all information to hand.
This includes comprehensive pricing and the ability to place and pay for an order.
Something like 50% of our customers are now located more than 20 miles from our production centre.
We have generated income from all four corners of the United Kingdom. We have sent print to the Outer Hebrides in the north, Truro in the south, Haverfordwest in the west, and Aldeburgh to the east.
Online printing has enhanced our profitability, cash flow, bad debt situation and all the key financial and operational ratios.
It has influenced how we make our investment decisions, our recruitment plans, our procurement procedures, our MIS system, our marketing strategy and our business exit plans.
This year we will be paying twice as much Corporation Tax to the UK Government than Facebook paid last year – and their turnover this last quarter was nearly £600m with something like 170 employees in the UK.
Whether online print can be profitable for companies of every size would depend upon many factors.
We remain a very small fish in a big ocean and can use our speed and flexibility to survive and grow in an increasingly competitive online market.
We do have some cost benefits compared to city or town centre operations with high rent and rates but our prices remain realistic and are designed to fill spare production capacity profitably.
Publishing a price is still a dilemma for many print businesses and is still one of the main psychological barriers of entry into the online print market.
However, I feel there is a great benefit in being able to let customers calculate what you charge for printing.
A large number of our online orders are placed in the evenings or at weekends when the customer has time to place an order and often is not able to make telephone contact during their busy day.
A recent YouGov survey highlighted that 32% of online purchases are mainly driven by price – but that still leaves 68% of online customers more interested in quality, reliability and the reputation of the supplier.
Other factors can be just as important in the decision-making process – such as reputation and perceived value.
Whether we like it or not we are now all judged by the quality of our websites and the speed and simplicity of our quotation and order process.
Most buyers are of a new generation – they don’t want to see a salesman, don’t want to take a telephone sales call and don’t want to waste time searching for contact details in Yellow Pages.
Everything has to be quick and that includes some idea of price.
For most “small ticket” items, like business cards, they find it frustrating to have to complete an online form and wait for a call back.
The days of just having a brochure website – without offering the opportunity to find a price or place an order online may well be over.
For our part both the first and second generation websites have been highly successful and profitable.
This is our third generation site.
In the next year we will focus on just 24 of the most popular digital print products for our online print growth.
The new web2print system is designed to be simple and easy – so that a client can order in 5 steps and a matter of a few seconds.
There is also the offer of a fixed price artwork cost of just £40 for any online print orders.
One of the major reasons people avoid online print is because they do not want to take a risk when uploading files – they would prefer someone checking them first or supplying a proof.
Finally, the financial implications of online print is impacting on the future of the business.
The business could be based anywhere in the UK without a great risk of losing many of our key clients.
The geographical spread of clients opens up the possibility of becoming a bolt-on operation to another digital print operation with younger management and longer-term ambitions.
There would be a very strong financial and commercial logic for the right company – and the net for the right candidate can be widened to cover most of the UK.
They would find a good way to jump up the learning curve and avoid some of the costly mistakes we have learned along the way.
The journey has been worthwhile and rewarding.
One client alone has generated enough income to have paid for all our website development and SEO work over the last 10 years.
But we are greedy and always want more of the same!
(Basis of presentation to UKDPN Conference November 2015)