Fri, Jul

W2P: opportunities and pitfalls

Despite the rise of online personalised print offerings and oft quoted ‘run of one’ capability of digital inkjet, Web-to-print continues to be eschewed by a large swathe of large-format print companies. Is it only too obvious why that’s the case, or are you missing out?

Do you have a Web-to-Print portal? If so, how much of your business comes in via that, and do you expect that to change much over the next couple of years?

Richard Clark, Owner, Raccoon:

Yes, we launched the www.bigprintfast.com website a few years ago. A minimal amount of business comes through the site though -  it accounts for approx. 0.1% of our print related turnover.

Stuart Maclaren, CEO, YPP Group:

We currently have a Web-to-Print portal which has been developed in-house for a large part of our business. At present all of our new brand customgifts.co.uk artwork is auto-created on our website and the print files is generated at the time of payment and sent straight into our production system. This way we can cut down on the volume of artwork needing to be checked and already know the files are print ready and feed into to production around the clock for the team. In terms of our large-format side of the business, we currently have around about 40% of this feeding into the business this way but with a large amount of work being done in the background to develop new links and integration we will be offering this to more clients to feed orders in, change address and files all the way up to the point of when it is going to be printed.

Ed Currer, Creative director, Vinyl Impressions:

No we don’t. We got rid of one we were developing after it failed to meet key ROI milestones. I wholeheartedly believe however, that we need to get out of the way, but allowing customers to get straight to the price and place an order... ? But, they know what they want, so we will keep researching this.

Richard McCombe, Director, Matic Media Services: 

We have the most awesome portal that runs both the front-end, client facing bit but which is also used by our customer service team.  It is loaded with 350 product types with the power to deliver a quote, create instant templates for any sized anything, upload artwork, preflight, edit and proof in… 60 seconds. No-one else believes us either, but it’s true.  

What is most valuable is that the artwork is then delivered directly to the Rip stations that then deliver the artwork to either dedicated roll-to-roll machines, dye-sub or flatbed.  The cutter files are automatically delivered to our Zund.

We are currently integrating our CRM for pop-screening our customer service team and automated remarketing to visitors to the website who have used the facility but not placed an order.

It is an ongoing continual investment project that has changed our entire business model to “many customers with many orders of low ATV”.  Our W2P platform powers our trade service http://graphicwarehouse.co.uk


Is it proving worth the investment?

Richard Clark, Owner, Raccoon:

As an investment it hasn’t proven worthwhile. However, we have continued with the investment and committed to the website since its launch. It hasn’t opened new revenue streams and never was meant to. It was more about providing customers with an easier way of placing print orders and for us to have a more efficient way of processing low-value enquiries.

Stuart Maclaren, CEO, YPP Group:

This has been a massive investment - currently over £200k - and in the long time this will pay off without doubt. We are increasing the volume of orders we can produce, and it is a major part of showing major brands that we can keep within guidelines and also within the brand rules with fonts and also checking for paternity checks.

Ed Currer, Creative director, Vinyl Impressions:

Unfortunately not. It has burnt a fairly large whole in our pocket and we have only the experience to show for it. But it won’t stop us going again.

Richard McCombe, Director, Matic Media Services: 

Our largest contract came to an end and was not renewed owing to public sector cutbacks. The amount the public sector was spending halved and we were looking down the barrel of a shotgun unless we launched our trade service earlier than expected. This has allowed us to sustain our existing turnover and we have recently returned to the profit margins we were making after two years’ of pain.

It’s been worth the hard work and effort of our in-house developer/director Robert McCombe.

It has reduced the reliance on projects arriving on time as the low risk orders for commoditised items are still in demand.  Without this platform we would not have been able to offer a competitive trade service.


In the large-format sector as a whole, Web-to-Print has been slow to take hold. Why do you think that is?

Richard Clark, Owner, Raccoon:

I believe the reason for the slow take up within large-format print is that there are too many variables to consider for each sales enquiry and order. The potential customer always has a lot of questions that need answering and is very often unsure in respect of materials, finishing requirements and end application. This means that the sector still leans very heavily towards ‘consultancy’ and ‘service’ during the sales process, eliminating the W2P automated process that you see within small format print. I don’t see it ending anytime soon.

Stuart Maclaren, CEO, YPP Group:

It’s hard for large-format for a number of reasons we have come up against. Because people have a logo on a business card doesn’t mean that same logo will work on a flag or a roller banner, which they don’t always realise. Creating the designs in a live window is also a lot more technical. This means that customers tend to want you to check over their stretch stand which has a cost price of £500 compared to some business cards at £20. It means you become more of a tech company than a print company - tech and Web developers are joining our team faster than people in any other department we have. 

The other challenge we have found is that you need to find people not only used to building websites, but ones learning and building api links into systems which currently don’t let you feed automatic files around the clock - to make sure the volume of orders are Ripping ready for the team to print.

Ed Currer, Creative director, Vinyl Impressions:

Being such visual products, and such a wide range, there needs to be a combination of visualisation and variable pricing happening in tandem (unless selling to the trade). This makes it a more complex challenge. Coupled with large, complex design files that need to be preflight proofed, all round it is not easy.

Richard McCombe, Director, Matic Media Services: 

Our research showed that an 8-colour commercial printer with all the usual finishing equipment has around 12.5K combinations.  We took our stocks, ink types, printers (five technologies), finishing equipment, etc and realised we had 125,000 combinations!

To create our W2P platform we took all our ‘ingredients’ and mapped these to stocks, then stocks to printer compatibility and ink, then mapped these to finishing equipment and created ‘recipes’. The recipes create commoditised products, which are not restricted by size or volume.  However our system calculates the dimension and weight while also selecting the correct carrier based on these parameters giving the client and automatic delivery cost by pinging the correct carried servers. It took a year to simply map the system out.


Given the bespoke capability of digital inkjet print and with the rise and rise of personalisation - especially in the online B2C market - do you think large-format PSPs need to attend to a W2P offering or risk newly emerging competitors stealing a march?

Richard Clark, Owner, Raccoon:

I believe that all PSP’s need to give thought to their W2P offering, introducing either a website or portal that compliments their business activities and brings additional efficiencies and automation to the sales and order taking/processing stages.

Stuart Maclaren, CEO, YPP Group:

Well this is B2C market is where YPP Group has been investing, signing major brands under European and UK master partnerships - meaning not only can we produce personalised gifts (from football clubs to major films such as Harry Potter and Batman to Loony Toons and Toy Story) in-house, but we have the rights to resell these items to other gifting markets too. I think the personalised market is something that will grow each year but you need a lot of money, integrations and support to make this happen. 

Ed Currer, Creative director, Vinyl Impressions:

I think personalisation in the B2B world is different because generally the design is created bespoke for the product. But what is interesting is being able to get a system that would create a bespoke template based on custom inputs.

Richard McCombe, Director, Matic Media Services: 

We have manufactured over 30,000 photo canvases for 20,000 unique customers.  We did this through Groupon, Living Social, It Is On… but the bubble burst.  After this we simply could not find a route to market with a product that was not damaged by competitive margin erosion. The cost of acquisition for consumers was so high without going through a consumer buying platform, we found this model unsustainable.

There are other selling/buying platforms now that may offer a lower cost route to the consumer market be we could not make the numbers work for us. This does not mean we have not had many ideas of things that consumers could purchase using our print technology.

We do have a website that we leave running, it ranks high in Google (Next Day Posters) and it is posters which are purchased online and printed automatically on our Oce Colourwave - this is true W2P with no human interaction.


How do you think W2P will play out across the large-format print sector over the coming five years?

Richard Clark, Owner, Raccoon:

It’s a difficult question to answer and it depends on what your end product is within the large-format sector. For those PSPs that focus primarily on providing print and have an emphasis on trade clients then I believe it will gradually grow and that customers will start to adopt W2P for sourcing and purchasing. For those companies that work within niche markets, this will also see an increase in W2P adoption. For those companies that combine print with other services and products and offer a more bespoke offering, then W2P will continue to be irrelevant.

Stuart Maclaren, CEO, YPP Group:

I think W2P will not yet make a major change to most of the large-format sector. I think this is a big part of where the market is going, but the cost of development is along way off where the return will be. 

The systems on the market all have little bits that are good, but there is not one system that can deal with all sections of the W2P market at present. I think the businesses that invest in this will benefit, but when you are spending tens of thousands on producing the systems the business must believe in what they are creating.

Ed Currer, Creative director, Vinyl Impressions:

Due to the complexity of products, I do think it will be a slow burner. I don’t think we will have a disruptive switch that we should all be panicking about. I think that a print marketplace is more likely to be the disrupter that I’m watching out for.

Richard McCombe, Director, Matic Media Services:

It is an obvious step but we still find little on the market that does everything we can make our own platform do: CRM integration, instant pricing, costing, proofing, editing, outputting print-ready files, generating cutter files, scheduling, carriage management and tracking - and of course accountancy software integration.

This is a lot and it depends on what the need is: take online orders with print-ready PDF’s; client integration with your workflow which works for your product range; end-to-end integration from enquiry to sale and then remarketing. I could go on and on here and this is where the interpretation of W2P is confusing.  For us it is not just one thing.

Each large-format PSP has its own needs and combinations of speciality - so, who can develop a W2P platform with the software, hardware, media and product knowledge other than grassroots businesses that really understands the needs while also having the expertise to integrate through existing software with (or without) API’s?  It is not easy to develop.