How online printers can build up profit margins by automating prepress

Trends and Insights Web to Print 3 min read , February 18, 2021

by Piet De Pauw, Head of Marketing, Enfocus

During the first week of the Enfocus Virtual Safari 2020, Ludovic Martin, Senior Consultant – Digital Strategy and eCommerce, gave his insights on how prepress automation can help online printers in the price war.

Online printing at a glance

Online printing accounted for 2.5 billion Euros in business in 2019. Averaging 24 million orders per year, it has shown 59% growth since 2012. 25% of printing companies own a web-to-print storefront. For about a quarter of those printers, W2P represents 25% of their revenue and that figure is on the rise.

What’s trending

Statistics show that 20% of the online printers are generating 80% of the total sales. That means that a handful of big printers are getting most of the sales. These larger generalized print companies are experiencing a slowdown in growth. This is in most part due to their increasing costs of acquiring new customers. Their marketing expenses are increasing to keep them competitive against each other, while industry pricing drops. Indications of stronger growth are seen in smaller printers in niche markets.

Niche online printers are gaining an advantage because it is easier for them to increase their margins across a smaller product line offering. No matter what the product being delivered is, efficient ganging is key to creating more margin. Ganging inherently reduces waste when strictly applied. Ganging performed by an automated process produces consistent, repeatable results every time.

Online printing value chain

The value chain is a circular behavior between the customer and printer. From Acquisition to order to file checking to ganging. Here at the prepress stage of the value chain, fast, efficient, consistent processes provide a far better customer experience. Automating prepress processes achieves this. To continue the value chain: ganging to printing to finishing to shipping to loyalty can all gain margin by implementing automated processes. Lastly, customers at the loyalty stage will return to place more orders given that delivery time and quality are as good or better than expected. Removing human error and monotonous handling of files affects both delivery and quality in a positive way.

Locating margin opportunities

Ludovic suggests taking look at these areas for improvement. Standardize custom orders to avoid quoting every job. Automating manual repetitive tasks, no matter how small. Integrating IT systems rather than manually exporting and importing or hand-typing data. Increase manufacturing speed where mechanically possible. Reduce reprints due to quality issues. Lower shipping costs through negotiations with services.

A specific area of the process to pay particular attention is prepress. This is the most hands-on area of print production which can be greatly improved by implementing automation. Preflight and file editing are time-consuming and prone to error. Manual processing may be perfectly acceptable in small shops or while business is starting, but for any prospect of scalability, automation is the only way to address prepress functions. When surges of orders are received from a storefront, each order has equal importance. A bottleneck at prepress is a detriment to customer expectations with short deliverable turnaround times.

Scalability and integrations

Workflow scalability should be considered from its inception. The hardware and software that are good enough to get a printer started are only truly good enough if they can be scaled as business grows and more orders come in. Automation on a scalable architecture sets the scene for future success. A printer who can’t handle business growth due to process limitations will be turning away customers. This is not a situation to foster returning business.

Seamless integration with storefronts and production software keeps human intervention from chipping away at margins. Planning the connectivity between systems guides solution purchases and will result in a solid system that expedites storefront to production processes.

Once an automated system is in place, it should be reviewed every six months to evaluate areas of improvement. Look for bottlenecks, manual interventions and process errors that can be addressed and corrected lead to streamlining and efficiency.