Half of all print shops have made the leap and invested in web-to-print software, according to survey results released in 2019 by Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends as part of their NA Software Investment Outlook. If your print shop is in the 50 percent still holding back, chances are web-to-print is on your horizon. Customers expect the always-on “Amazon experience” — speed, service, availability — from their print shop partner. Web-to-print software allows customers to submit orders on their own time, on their own terms, and — theoretically, at least — helps print shops to streamline their order process to eliminate manual interventions.
But in spite of having the tools to automate order submission, many print shops we talk to find that they haven’t quite realized the benefits they expected. Whether you have a web-to-print solution in place, or you’re wondering if making the move might be right for your shop, here are three challenges that you should keep in mind - and how to fix them.
Problem 1: Your Web-to-Print System is an “Island of Automation”
When we start working with print shops, one of the first things we do is send in an automation expert to conduct a workflow audit. Often, we find that if a print shop does indeed have a web-to-print solution in place, it is not properly integrated with the existing Print MIS solution. That means that shops have invested in automation tools and then instituted highly manual workarounds, often re-keying orders and manually pushing them through the pre-press and production processes. That leads to two problems: wasted time and greater risk of order error.
Relying on staff to be the connection between web-to-print software and a Print MIS means that your 24/7 online storefront really isn’t always-on. Orders are stuck in the queue until someone adds it into your pre-press software. Print and Marketing Group, Inc. (PMI), faced this same problem prior to working with Avanti. Manual entry was required to fulfill all the orders coming in, particularly through their online storefront. “On a typical day, we could get 50 orders between three storefronts. We average 1,000 – 1,500 orders a month,” explained Armando Pena from PMI. “The solution we had in place didn’t communicate well with other systems, and didn’t do a good job at import.”
The solution to this problem, is to make sure that you stick to standards-based software across your print shop. The Advanced JDF Framework both preserves data integrity and ensures cross-system communication, meaning that the data entered by your customer into your web-to-print storefront will flow seamlessly into your Print MIS for automated workflow management. For PMI, that meant saving 8 hours every day on manual order entry tasks - imagine what your shop could do with an extra 8 hours every day.
Problem 2: Inaccurate and Incomplete Information
Getting orders flowing from your web-to-print solution into your Print MIS is a great start. But when data only moves from the web-to-print to the Print MIS, and doesn’t flow back the other way, your customers only see part of the picture when they place their orders:
- Inventory is unknown: When the web-to-print system isn’t configured to receive data back from the Print MIS, it’s easy for customers to unknowingly order low-stock, out-of-stock and back-ordered products.
- Pricing data easily gets out of sync: If updates made to the price book aren’t automatically pushed to the web-to-print system, all too often the pricing in the web-to-print system lags behind, and pricing updates for some products get missed.
Implementing bidirectional data flow between your systems solves for both of these problems and empowers your customer with greater selective visibility into your operations.
For example, when customers can see inventory levels in near real-time, they can make the right decisions — on their own — for their timeline requirements. Think back to the Amazon experience: when you search for something on Amazon, you are shown a variety of options, price points and delivery dates. Having this information lets you decide what is the right product for your needs. If there are two similar options that can both meet your needs, but one is out of stock for 6 weeks and the other could be delivered the next day, it makes it easier for you to decide which product to pick.
The same holds for pricing. When the pricing found within the web-to-print storefront comes directly from your price book, customers get the right pricing information right away; this eliminates that uncomfortable situation when price updates haven’t been pushed through and your team has to call your customers to let them know that the price they thought they were getting wasn’t actually correct.
Making sure that customers see accurate inventory and pricing data when they place their orders translates to a better experience for them — and creates fewer problems for you to solve later.
Problem 3: The Post-Order Black Hole
Once a customer clicks submit on an order, it starts winding its way through your workflows. Thanks to your integrated Print MIS, anyone on your staff can see where the order sits at any point in time with just a few clicks. But your customers are left in the dark, not knowing the production stage where their order sits unless they call their account manager or one of the customer service representatives. Even though the customer was able to submit the order on their own, your staff remain the gatekeepers. Managing order status queries wastes everyone’s time and distracts your team from higher-order tasks.
Today, customers expect to be able to track the status of online orders. Survey data reported by OSM Worldwide showed that 29 percent of retail consumers checked the status of their ecommerce orders once per day, and an additional 11 percent tracked orders multiple times each day. While this data focuses on retail ecommerce behavior, it’s clear that these expectations don’t begin and end with retail ecommerce purchases. It’s likely that your customers’ expectations for your delivery are being shaped by the Amazon experience, too.
The bidirectional data flow that helps customers order more accurately and efficiently online, also helps to shine a light into the post-order black hole. Once enabled, customers can log in to the web-to-print system to see real-time order status and tracking numbers, direct from the pre-press and production solutions processing the orders. The customer gets the information instantly; and your staff is freed from time consuming order status calls.
Online ordering is here to stay. Working with the right web-to-print and Print MIS platforms can make the move to a web storefront easier and more convenient for your customers and your business, and can help you to avoid the common pitfalls that many print shops encounter when they first transition to ecommerce. To learn more about how to make online ordering the first step in an automated print workflow, check out our webinar, End-to-end Workflow Moves Online Orders Automatically, for a hands-on review of how to best implement web-to-print in your shop.