Customer expectations accelerate print’s evolution

Tim Carter, director, Ricoh UK
Monday, September 20, 2021

Widespread adoption of online buying, rising environmental awareness and new printable products all converge to provide an opportunity for innovative digital print technology, applications and partnerships – observes Ricoh’s Tim Carter.

Print businesses must be prepared to adapt
Print businesses must be prepared to adapt

A trend has been heavily signposted in the pages of Printweek just in the past few weeks: venture capitalists investing significant money into ecommerce platforms that look to bring creators, on-demand print producers and customers together.

First there was Gelato, whose hyper-local printing platform operates in 33 countries, including the UK. It announced in August that it has raised around £175m to fund worldwide expansion plans. Then there was Printify, which raised around £32.6m in a funding round that included Virgin Group.

These deals are interesting because of what they say about the ongoing evolution of the print on-demand marketplace, in which digital print of course plays a critical part.

The service that platforms such as Gelato and Printify offer is an ultimate expression of what digital technology, allied to the convenience of online purchasing, now means: a product designed in one part of the world, printed and delivered to a customer in another part of the world same day/next day. They are also interesting because they send another strong signal about the need for printers to think about sustainability as they shape their service propositions in the post-pandemic world.

Listen to Ricoh’s Anything in Print podcast with Gelato - the most downloaded episode to date

Adapting to change
We in the print industry have always pointed to digital print and on-demand as a great counterpoint to the environmental pressure we have come under. We can do smaller and smaller runs, we said, so there will be less waste. The development of these hyper-local print markets takes the argument further than perhaps even we envisaged, augmenting our carbon-counting message.

It’s another opportunity for printers. Much has been said about our emergence from the pandemic, and how print businesses must be prepared to adapt. Economists are talking about the “K-shaped recovery”, in which the performances of different companies or sectors are diverging – those who can and have adapted arching upwards, those unable or unwilling to adapt trending down.

Consumer trends are driving these factors. Online purchasing – already on the advance as generational buying habits become more entrenched – has accelerated in the pandemic, and to a very large degree won’t go back. Printers must build a stronger online presence and back it up with automated processes to be able to thrive. Meanwhile, other consumer tastes have also accelerated in recent times, and sustainability is pivotal here too.

For example, the aesthetics of natural fibres have been seized upon in the design world – cotton, linen, bamboo amongst them – and are popular with consumers who, as generations mature, have come to expect more ethical supply. They want less plastic, less gloss, and more of a rustic, natural look and feel. In print, we are seeing this manifest itself in increased specifying of uncoated papers for general marketing collateral such as brochures and catalogues. Printers and agencies are telling us this is happening, and paper manufacturers confirm the growth in uncoated paper usage too, causing them to adapt their own operations to produce the required natural grades.

Enabled by technology
Printers can get great results on these paper stocks these days, thanks to the print engine improvements that vendors have achieved. Ricoh’s own Pro C9200 digital press includes a matt fuser option that allows users to produce offset-like quality on uncoated papers. Alongside this advance on the Pro C9200 is Auto Colour Diagnosis (ACD), which controls colour stability and image quality to reduce production errors and waste and ensure customer satisfaction – all strong factors in the development of the on-demand, online print market, as well as improving environmental performance.

Ricoh has watched the development of digital print markets and listened closely to its customers’ demands in evolving this technology quickly from its initial Pro C901 production press offering, through to the Pro C9200 becoming a technology of choice for book, photo and general marketing print applications.

Consumer trends have always varied but in today’s online and connected world, there’s no doubt that there’s an acceleration of change and expectations. Printers can strengthen their response by being agile and finding greater uptime and efficiency, as well as lowering costs, providing speedier ROI and extending the applications from their equipment. Increasingly today, they can and should embrace new consumer trends with innovation in their business to thrive.

We will be discussing benefits of the new enhancements and giving a live demonstration of the Ricoh Pro C9200 press at our next Anything in Print Live Technology Showcase event on the 12 October – join us!


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