By editor Morten B. Reitoft & CEO Yves d'Aviau de Ternay INKISH France

Morten: What are the most important aspects to look into when thinking about web-to-print?

Yves: First of all, the most important aspect to consider when starting a project or a Web-to-print business model is the CLIENT. I see too many printers approaching such a project mainly to "fill" their machines. For me, this is a mistake: approaching the project as a "PRINTER" is a big mistake. The project must above all be a "CUSTOMER" oriented project where the Web-to-print solution meets the needs of the customer but also and perhaps especially meet his problems of deadlines, brand alignment, co-creation, etc.

An important aspect is also the time-to-market. The world is moving faster and faster, and many players are entering the Web-to-print market. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up some announcements and arrivals of certain players on this market, we must be aware that many will take advantage of new opportunities then, especially in e-commerce, it is essential not to miss the train ...

Morten: What is your opinion about your own development vs. commercially available solutions? Do you find that expensive solutions ALWAYS are better than the cheaper ones?

Yves: When I am asked the question: "Should I develop in-house or invest in an off-the-shelf solution?" Only the printer, in my opinion, can and should answer this question. There is no single answer, or to put it another way, there are as many answers as there are printers. However, some advice can be given.

The answer will depend, first of all, on the strategic choices and positioning that the printer will want to achieve with his solution in the next 2 or 3 years (and not in the next 5 years as this market has become so hyper-competitive). Does he want to address the B2C market or the B2B market (or, more precisely, the B2ALL or B2Client market, see my last article on this subject)?

If a printing company wants to embark on a Web2print project, it must understand that, unlike most e-commerce sites, it is not a question of selling a product usually stored in a warehouse and shipping it to the customer once the order is received. The great difficulty in a web2print project is that generally, the order is printed and manufactured upon receipt of payment in B2C or validated in B2B.

When we talk about Web-to-print, we refer to any other e-commerce solution with the well-defined purchasing processes and electronic invoicing where web-to-print add, above all, processing, configuration, personalization, file validation, and that is where the problem starts.

Editors or integrators of Web2Print solutions today offer increasingly sophisticated solutions capable of meeting the majority of cases and requests from printers who wish to create their online shop. The printer generally subscribes to a monthly subscription option. Depending on his options, the editor gives him access to a number of functionalities allowing him to start his project very quickly. The advantages for a printer choosing an off-the-shelf solution are then numerous: he knows his budget. He has an obvious vision of the functional scope of the solution, the grid of functionalities he has purchased such as an online editor, a preflight solution, payment solutions, etc.. Above all, he controls his time-to-market. The main drawbacks are the other side of the coin of the simplicity of ordering an off-the-shelf solution, the fact of ordering a solution that is somewhat "standard" with choices of technologies that you do not master. The risk will undoubtedly be, especially in the B2C market, the difficulty to differentiate yourself from your colleagues who would have chosen the same off-the-shelf W2P solution, which is less disadvantageous in B2B. Another point to mention when talking about the B2C market, and off-the-shelf solutions, are the difficulties for some people to master the important SEO, which may lead to unpleasant surprises for the printer, especially in terms of customer acquisition costs.

Regarding the development, whether it is developed internally or outsourced, the solutions often use a CMS such as Prestashop or Magento. The main advantage is, of course, the fact of building a tailor-made solution, close to the idea expected and desired by the entrepreneur or the printer, and, therefore, in a B2C market to have a better chance of differentiating from the competition. Another advantage will be that it can be perfectly adapted to the IT infrastructure of the company. Usually, in this type of development, the printer will benefit from the most modern technologies, very often open source with very active developer communities that make a lot of resources available. Unlike an off-the-shelf solution, the answer is much less clear-cut when it comes to budget allocation. Because even if you draw up specifications, from experience, and especially when it comes to Web-to-print, the complexity of developments is often underestimated by developers, and costs can quickly skyrocket. Another major disadvantage concerns the possible time-to-market when making this choice: you know when you start, but very rarely when the solution will be ready to be put online, which is a point that should not be overlooked.

So, in my opinion, especially for B2B-oriented W2P projects, and if the company doesn't have in-house development skills, it will be in its best interest to invest in an off-the-shelf solution. However, be sure that the chosen solution can interface with your information systems and, if possible, the company's IT infrastructure.

For a B2C-oriented W2P project, I would say that everything depends. First of all, on the maturity of the printing company regarding e-commerce and digital marketing experience. If the printing company is new to this field, it is in its best interest to start with an off-the-shelf solution and thus gain experience in creating product sheets, a catalog, referencing and online sales, and then consider developing it internally or through a development agency to move on to the next stage.

Morten: How important do you find local language support is both when assessing a w2p solution and afterward?

Yves: In France, local language support has been a sine qua noncondition both for printers and for all French manufacturing SMEs in general. Many printers who opt for an off-the-shelf solution will most likely still be waiting for support in French because very often, the configuration and other specific needs will be given to a printing company employee who does not necessarily come from the IT world.

However, we should not forget the many start-ups or other entrepreneurs who are also attacking this market, players who are much less demanding and less close to receiving support in another language if the solution meets their target.

Morten: How should a printer evaluate a supplier - short-term/long-term?

Yves: This is a very important question. Today individually operated printing company is increasingly giving way to larger groups of companies, franchises, and companies in other sectors, each focused on what they can do to meet the increasingly individualized expectations of customers and new strategies, particularly within mass personalization. This is why today's successful printers have understood that a partnership with the best specialists on the market is the best solution.

There is a growing interest among online printers to invest in long-term partnerships with suppliers that allow them to implement innovative business models. I invite you to take a look at the new Fabless online printing platforms (raksul) that appear to be valuable only because of the quality of their partnerships with their suppliers.

Morten: Do you have an idea about what Human/IT resources a small/mid-size printer should allocate to maintain and develop a printers web presence?

Yves: The answer(s) to this question depends on whether the printer chooses an off-the-shelf solution or develop a W2P solution in-house or in a development agency. If the printer chooses an off-the-shelf solution, the main skills he will have to acquire will be mainly parameterization/configuration competences, learning the off-the-shelf tool he has chosen, knowing that the issues of computer coding, and infrastructure. Hosting will be the responsibility of the editor or integrator.

Conversely, if the printer chooses to develop a solution in-house, he will have to acquire competences in development, project management, coding, but also in integration, in industrial IT, particularly with the pre-press workflows of the printing works. This is a point not to be neglected because these skills are highly specialized and often difficult to find to respond perfectly to all the problems this type of project involves. Thus, IT resources will depend on the e-business and digital strategy chosen by the printer.

Morten: Do you believe all printers should have a web-to-print solution

Yves: I don't think a printer should necessarily invest in a Web-to-Print solution. Let's remember that a printer's primary job is to print and not necessarily to do e-commerce or develop W2P solutions.

However, what I think is important today is that printers should be connected either to their own W2P platform or to other W2P platforms or other marketplaces. Year after year, platforms are becoming more and more important, even indispensable in the acquisition of orders. These platforms require and will increasingly require automation, organization, adapted industrial processes, just-in-time…

Tomorrow's printing companies will have to become 4.0 connected factories to meet the increasingly demanding challenges in terms of cost, deadlines, and quality that these platforms or, more precisely, the end customers will demand from the products sold by these platforms.