The right side of web-to-print - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The Amazons, Flipkarts and Snapdeals are making it easy for people to order goods online and have them delivered too. They display a new model of doing business while trying to meet hard deadlines. Three web-to-print solution providers show how companies can turn a profit for print business with their solutions. This Sunday Column we find out if print can be a winner on web.

22 Mar 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

In July 2009, Varun Agarwal and Rohn Malhotra, who initially just wanted a sweatshirt with their schools name on it, established Alma Mater with an aim to provide students and alumni of premier schools and colleges in India with a means of expressing their pride of being part of the reputed institutions. They chose the web-to-print mean to reach out to their target audience.

When Reliable Prints, a Mumbai-based digital print specialist for more than 25 years, wanted to widen their customer base, the company envisioned going online.

Ahmedabad-based National Process Label (NP Label), specialises in metal labels. About two years ago it launched an e-commerce portal for online sale of its standard industrial label solutions and has since been adding two new clients every day.

Today, everybody is looking for a bright spot in business, and on that build profits and increase margins. The above three with the likes of Vistaprint, Perfact, and PrintStop among others have implemented the web-to-print business model extremely well.

The term web-to-print has been around for several years, but the concept is gaining more and more traction today, when commercial print firms are desperately looking for alternate revenue streams.

The web-to-print technology a few years back was nothing more than an FTP site. Today, it has moved on radically transforming the customers marketing strategies and driving personalisation. Even so, the software available in the market have made the set-up and functioning as easy as pie.

My colleague Rushikesh Aravkar and I spoke to three web-to-print software developers in India during PrintPack 2015 to understand how print can be a winner on the web.

Ringing in the new web-to-print wave

The use of web-to-print portals enables various companies to order, modify materials based on their needs, and in many ways can simplify print management for print buyers.

Till about five years ago, there were hardly any web-to-print service providers, today there are at least five or six. At PrintPack, there were three players – Design’N’Buy, Flexi Web to Print and OnPrintShop.

Research shows globally 30% of print is ordered online and by 2017, it will reach 50%, means out of every two clients, one would be ordering online. India has the second largest  internet users. Ernst & Young research shows that Indian online buyer is no different than online buyer in the USA.

“Web-to-print is no more an option globally and in India,” says Naresh Bordia, managing director at Radixweb, whose flagship product is OnPrintShop. At PrintPack, his company recorded 3,500 walk-ins and 650 meetings with 20 sales confirmation post-show and 30-odd in process.

Nidhi Agarwal, CEO of Design’N’Buy, a new venture in India’s web-to-print software landscape, believes that in India, web-to-print is still in infancy. She observes, “It takes lots of consultancy and mentoring to convince Indian print CEOs why they need web-to-print and how it can help them grow their business pan India and worldwide.”

Bordia says that many printers are aware of the need to simplify the ordering process but they are not sure if the clients are ready to order online, plus there are other issues like how to start online business, choosing the right vendor or develop it in-house, how to calculate return on investment, and what kind of team is needs for the migration.

Manoj Kotak, managing director at Flexi Web to Print, a company that was launched in 2008, says, at Print Pack 2013 we were struggling to make people understand what are we offering; but at Print Pack 2015 people were approaching us with specific questions. Flexi is a techno-creative conglomerate having interests in web technologies, designing and print solutions.

But for Design’N’Buy, which was launched in 2009, the going has been good. What started with a simple client project to develop interactive t-shirt design software today has over 500 licenses sold till date in over 40 countries around the world. Alma Mater is one of their first customers. The company conceptualised its first t-shirt design tool and integrated it first with osCommerce and then with Magento eCommerce software to offer a complete package.

Team Design N Buy

“With some initial success, we started enhancing this product and zeroed-in on Magento Community Edition to offer a full featured web-to-print commerce solution with our interactive t-shirt design tool application. We officially branded it as Design’N’Buy in late 2009,” adds Agarwal.

OnPrintShop was established in 2000 and since, it claims, has delivered thousands of projects. Reliable Prints and NP Labels are two of its successful projects.

While Kotak still has no direct success story so far in India, he claims a lot of his company’s customer have begged huge corporate order due to inbuilt corporate module we have in our system which allow corporate client to have multiple print product ordered from multiple branches across country and printing company (his company’s client) can print at central location and delivery through courier company.

Web-to-print: Challenges in India
The process involves complete automation, squeezing the last bit of inefficiency in its way. But there are barriers like high cost of web-to-print software; building complex IT infrastructure to support this high-end software, managing and paying for experienced IT team and software maintenance and upgradation. Besides, there are off-the-shelf software that bring Internet interfaces. They sure are great value add but far from being the applications that can pay off in a big way.

“You are right,” says Kotak, adding “the Indian printers are getting confused as clone web-to-print products are flooding the market.”

Nidhi Agarwal
For Aggarwal, the biggest challenge is offer top notch web-to-print solutions with very marginal cost to keep their initial investments very low. To tackle this, Design’N’Buy offers its solutions as Software as a Service (SaaS), which is managed from a central location rather than at each customer’s site, enabling customers to access their application remotely via web and manage it as per their business objectives.

“With this, Indian print companies can pay us low monthly fee and start using the software to build their online printing store. Once they see the ROI, they can migrate to the licensed version with minimum license costs,” suggests Agarwal.

But Bordia says, he enjoys working as consultant to Indian PSPs, understanding their challenges, stating that we proactively share knowledge and help them transit from traditional to online print ordering and make it successful.  “Young generation CEOs and progressive companies are well-read and travelled, they are highly proactive and understand that today internet and digital printing has changed the way print is being ordered. Moreover, now the Vistas of the world and 65% of youth in this country are challenging the printers to rethink the way they do business in the 21st century.”
The eCommerce platform
Most of the developers have local and international payment and shipping gateways integrated, giving their clients the options to select the best that suites them. For example, Bordia says, his company has 50+ such gateways integrated. “Our solution has highest level of secured payment transaction, as we don’t collect any payment information on our site but directly direct to payment gateway website.”

Manoj Kotak
Kotak says, you need to understand the Indian scenario. “Small and medium e-commerce venture need to go to aggregator for payment gateway they can't setup their own gateway.” He adds, “As a tool we keep API integrated for popular Indian as well as International gateway.” He also cautions, “eCommerce gateways, integration and rules differ for each country.”

Design’N’Buy on the other hand deploys an open source eCommerce platform Magento Community Edition, which is owned by eBay. “While we are focusing on building high-end design studio application and integrating web-to-print workflow in Magento, Magento itself is very progressive,” says Agarwal.  “Our customers can choose to extend their online stores with free and paid Magento extensions as well as do custom development without falling back on us, thus keeping their costs of development low and still getting all freedom to expand their online business as needed,” says Agarwal.
Mobile to print: a new avenue
According to a venture-capital firm, there are two-billion people around the world using smartphones with internet connection and touch screen. That number is expected to double by the end of this decade. These devices are seen as the next big way wave in digital commerce space.

Agarwal says, “With mobile commerce anticipated to grow 9-11% each year, print shop owners can leverage the technology and benefit by making their print shop available on the mobile devices allowing shoppers to personalise products anywhere anytime.
"Agarwal’s company recently launched a full Mobile2Print solution, which is delivered as fully packaged iOS and Android apps. The apps consists of 3 major components, a full-featured mobile commerce workflow, integrated design studio for product personalisation and a Magento extension to integrate and synchronize apps with Magento backend.

“We have already implemented it for one of our European customer and we expect to get their apps live by early April this year,” says Agarwal. “Our core solutions are fully packaged web to print software and can go live in just three days with all store configuration and data population.”

Bordia of OnPrintShop claims his company was among the first few globally to make its solution mobile responsive. “We have integrated world’s most advanced bootstrap technology and fastest to set-up mobile responsive storefront. Client does not need any programming skills or additional efforts. We have also created mobile responsive form-based online designer studio to order from any mobile device. All above area part of our standard solution offering.”

Kotak of Flexi, however, is not upbeat about mobile commerce and its implementation in the real sense, but says it can be offered as a separate fancy tool to attract customers.

He explains, “Understand this. Mobile device screen size are not universal and so is the speed. Real commercial printing art work file runs huge in size. So creating something directly on mobile and sending it to print is not so easily feasible.”

However, when it comes to digital photo print or in very rare cases personalised printing where in again what you are going to do is upload picture and write few words it might work. He adds, “Even after invention of tablets, smartphones and fablets, desktops and laptops have not vanished though the sales have not been robust. We still need them for hardcore purposes and applications. Print processing is one of them.”

The non-disclosure agreement (NDA) these developers enter into limit us from understanding the adoption rate of web-to-print. But after conversations with the three players, we expect more growth for print to come from enterprises and industries where document requirements are more complex.

And though web-to-print portals have become more sophisticated in how they manage data files, its best chance to examine how growth will come from what these portals have done for those in the print industry who have adopted it and for others to replicate it and help them get to the next level.
National Process Label
Ahmedabad-based National Process Label (NP Label), which specialises in metal labels, launched an e-commerce portal for online sale of its standard industrial label solutions, a year and a half ago, and has since been adding two new clients every day.
Talking to the PrintWeek India team during its visit to the plant in Ahmedabad, Bakul Pandya, managing director of the company, said, “Through the e-commerce website, we cater to more than 800 orders per month especially for the standard self-adhesive and metal labels. This includes OK Tested stickers, QC stickers, direction arrow labels, control panel plates, and caution label signs for machines among others. Today our customer tally has crossed the 8000 mark.”
National Process required an online system that allowed customers to personalise labels, proof online and place order.
“Before moving to OnPrintShop, we had our store on a different, difficult platform,” remarked Pandya. "Their previous system was an off-the-shelf eCommerce solution which didn’t allow for online print personalisation and was difficult to customize. It was overly complicated which made it tough to adapt by both, internal team and customers."
The e-commerce website, lists more than 20 categories of metal and paper-based label.
"OnPrintShop customised multi-store solution to perfectly meet their unique requirement of personalising and ordering signage products," said Bordia.
"It's USP is the OnPrintShop’s online calculator, which allows for dynamic pricing for product specific additional options such as base material, material thickness, printing method, self-adhesive required, etc," said Pandya. 
The 46-year old company, which has been investing in latest technologies over the years, today houses a flatbed metal printing kit, large-format flatbed machine for paper-based label printing, a narrow-web flexo press, digital metal printing machine and a digital press for self-adhesive labels. Besides this, it also has a well-equipped design studio, and punching and cutting workshop.
With digital printing capabilities, the company is able to cater to short-run orders as low as one label. The company produces more than 200 jobs in a day.
Spread across an area of 27,000 sq/ft, the company turns over Rs two-crore worth business in one year. It is in a process of implementing lean management to streamline the processes, which according to Pandya, will save about 4,500 sq/ft area that will be used for further expansion.

In July 2009, Varun Agarwal and Rohn Malhotra, who initially just wanted a sweatshirt with their schools name on it, established Alma Mater with an aim to provide students and alumni of premier schools and colleges across India with a means of expressing their pride of being part of the reputed institutions.

They approached Design N Buy with the requirement of an exclusive web store for their business. After several discussions, they chose Design’N’Buy to take up this challenge.

A glance at Alma Mater’s website, one realises that the whole website is based on multi-store set-up with exclusive store for each college/school registered with unique product catalog and pricing and integrated play tool for product personalisation.

The USP of their website is live play tool for social tee networking, which has some unique and remarkable features like signature tool, group designing, team orders with name/number and much more.