How the humble mobile phone will conquer W2P

Jon Severs
Monday, September 28, 2015

On Valentines Day this year, a landmark moment in retail was reached: according to the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, the proportion of online retail traffic coming from mobile devices broke the 50% mark.

‘What’s this got to do with print?’ you may ask. After all, that’s general retail. Print’s different. Print just doesn’t work on mobile. Print does not need mobile. 

There may have been a time when that was true, but not anymore. 

“You can’t ignore mobile,” says Julian Marsh, business development consultant at Harrier LLC. “Whatever area of print you are in, the situation has shifted. People don’t want to sit at their desks anymore. They want to access services via mobile and tablets wherever and whenever.”

Chris Knighton, chief executive of Oneflow Systems, agrees: “The companies that have been in this industry for 30 or 40 years have struggled to recognise that the market is very different now. They need to be more agile and interact with different types of customers in different ways.” 

Yet print is a diverse business. From one-man operations in a garage to the largest of multi-national businesses, can one trend – the rise of the smartphone – really be as applicable across every sector? Within that question is possibly another that is more interesting: should all these businesses be using mobile in the same way? 

Neither has a simple answer. The first, in particular, splits opinion. 

“Our typical orders are generally quite bespoke and we have made a positive decision not to ‘de-personalise’ the process to the point where online or mobile ordering is possible, let alone the norm,” says Gareth Roberts, managing director at Bishops Printers in Portsmouth. 

Many other printers are of a similar view. Mobile is fine if you are serving the consumer space like Moonpig, they say, but for more complex products in the commercial print space you need a desktop and a personal relationship. 

But some say that even those serving the consumer space may not see the high mobile figures reported in the rest of retail. Grafenia straddles the trade and consumer sectors with its collection of companies including Printing.com. Grafenia chief technology officer Peter Gunning says that across its range of different web-to-print offerings, smartphones are still scoring only from 10%-15% of traffic – and tablets only 5%-10%. 

“So 75% of business is still coming to us via desktop. On our trade focused websites, it is up to the 90% mark,” says Gunning. 

“People can easily use mobile to buy simple things but when you are buying print, there always need to be a graphics file,” he continues. “It is pretty difficult to upload a file on a mobile and even on an iPad it is tough. That is the blocker that forces people to desktop. They might browse and find pricing on mobile but the actual order still comes from desktop.”

Research from consultancy Nielsen Norman Group supports Gunning’s view. Earlier this year it found that e-commerce sites have 288% higher conversion rates on desktop than on smartphones. Its figures – based on US data – also showed that mobile accounted for 40.6% of traffic, but just 15.9% of sales.

Double-digit growth

And yet, Marsh says Harrier has “millions of orders coming through mobile”, while Gary Peeling, managing director at Precision Printing, says mobile is showing double-digit growth for his company. 

“Mobile orders are growing 45% for us,” he reveals. “There is a huge demand.”

Marsh and Peeling are operating in similar sectors, of course, one Peeling calls mass consumer products (MCP) – postcards, greetings cards, photobooks and the like. It’s fast turnaround, relatively low-priced print where the consumer is offered relatively little editing functionality. 

So is it the case that those few at the MCP end of the print market do need to bother with mobile and the rest of the industry does not?  

This is where we come to question two: the how of embracing mobile. It’s not a one-trick model. 

At one end you have the consumer apps. Here, for example, a consumer downloads an app and produces a simple print product with limited editable features. Greetings cards, where you can change some text and drop in a picture, are a good example. 

Dianne Moralee, Taopix sales director, says this is a space many printers in the consumer space have failed to catch on to. 

“There are, on average, 150 photos taken on every smartphone in the UK each month, which are just stored and viewed without being turned into anything tangible. Printers have the ability now to turn those photos into calendars, photobooks, canvas prints, phone covers, posters – the list is endless,” she says. 

Getting into this market does not necessarily mean creating the app yourself, she says, and interestingly she adds that neither does it mean you have to be a direct-to-consumer printer. 

“I think those printers who have customers in retail, leisure, sports and travel have ready-made markets to tap into. Imagine the scenario where a travel company can offer a ‘free’ photobook featuring their client’s holiday photos, made and ordered directly from their smartphone or tablet as part of the holiday package?”

Knighton agrees. He explains that Oneflow Systems – which was spun off from Precision Printing’s in-house workflow development – now has a huge array of printers on its books that it links to various app vendors. The developers produce the app and want to offer print products through it. Oneflow provides the platform and technology for the orders coming through the app to be fed directly into the workflow of partner printers. It’s trade print, straight from mobile orders. 

“A good example is a printer that is now manufacturing for 18 brands. Another client, within the first weekend of going live had 12,000 orders go through,” he says. 

So it might seem that apps are great for trade and consumer printers alike as a source of business. Marsh is trialling one currently for price information at Harrier. Yet apps have limited appeal, says Gunning. 

“Apps are great if you want nuggets of information, but very few people want to use them for purchasing or browsing unless the company has replicated everything they have on their website in the app. If someone downloads your app and you end up sending them to your browser for options or payment, then that will irritate the user,” he says.

Excellent experiences

This is where we come to another way of utilising mobile: optimising your sales experience for mobile usage, through the browser. 

“We believe it is much better to have one experience and have it responsive and optimised for whatever device you are looking at. It’s one thing, we are not fragmenting the experience,” Gunning explains. 

What this means is that, whatever device you are using, the Grafenia websites will deliver an experience tailored accordingly. 

“If you come from desktop, then you get the full editing experience, lots of options and flexibility,” he says. “But if you come from a tablet, then editing is clunky with your fingers. So editing a design document with your fingers becomes a massive challenge to overcome. We have a separate view where if someone arrives by iPad they have a more constrained editing experience, probably more akin to what you would get on Moonpig. You can still change text and images but you do not have the same ability to move things about as it would be too awkward, especially if you have fat fingers like me!”

For the many printers that now have some form of web-to-print function, then this is advice worth heeding. 

Essential offering

But it’s not just about buying print. The other key function for mobile devices is to deliver simple marketing and pre-sales information. And while the other two options may not be applicable to all, this area of ‘mobile-readiness’ definitely is.  

“In the B2B market, our customers want to engage via mobile. They are not stuck behind desks all day any more. They are working outside office hours,” says Marsh. “They want to be able to work on the go. This takes different guises. A lot of what we are seeing is the pre-sale information gathering being done on mobile.”

He says that if your website is not mobile-optimised, then you will soon start missing out on business. 

“If you have a website that simply snaps to mobile size, then you are not optimising for mobile. You don’t have a mobile friendly website and you won’t be getting any of the benefits. Instead, you need to properly build a mobile friendly website, with all the usability built in and the different user experience fully thought through. I think we’re not far off in the business world of every company having two separate websites – one for desktop and one for mobile.”

Gunning adds that research recently undertaken by an SEO consultancy suggested not having a properly mobile optimised website would see your Google ranking drop, too. 

And Peeling believes that soon many aspects of the after-sales service will need to be done on mobile, whatever your sector or business size. So order tracking, proofing, delivery information, order history – people will want to access it all on the go. 

Thus, whatever your business or sector, it does seem you will need to attend to your mobile presence, just not always in the way you might expect. 

The good news is the likes of Oneflow, Taopix and Grafenia are all offering off the shelf products to make mobile a little easier and cheaper (though the costs would still have to be weighed up for the potential benefit). But as Knighton explains, going it alone can sometimes pay off, too, even at the MCP extreme of the market. 

“What we are now seeing, however, is a lot of our printers developing their own apps, they are seeing there is a lion share of revenue to be had in getting into that space. Some of them have been very successful indeed at doing that,” he says.  

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