Should Printer’s Charge for Online Solutions?

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Should Printer’s Charge for Online Solutions?

In business we’re used to calculating our costs, adding an appropriate margin, thus determining the final price to the customer. I understand why we would carry this logic into the world of print ecommerce. You paid for the software solution, the solution is clearly providing value to your customer, why wouldn’t you charge for it?

If you’ve been reading my blog or the articles I’ve written for WhatTheyThink, I bet you can guess what I’m going to say about charging customers to transact with you online. Charge them for the privilege of submitting work in a self service fashion? Please don’t.

I don’t mean you can’t charge them for consultative services rendered around the solution, but charging customers for doing business with you in a self service fashion is not a good strategy. It sounds silly when you word it like that, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s what ecommerce is – its self service (meaning the customer is interacting with your business without you applying direct labor resources). Logic might tell us that a customer discount should be in order for their efforts?

You want to create an environment that encourages your transition from an offline to online business as quickly as possible. One of the most important metrics every printer should be tracking is what portion of their business is coming from their ecommerce platform?

I suggest not only tracking the % but publishing the monthly breakdown to your entire company with quarterly goals tied to performance appraisals. Everyone in your company needs to line up behind your transformation from an offline business to a primarily online business.


  1. Greg Goldman on September 17, 2010 at 9:12 am

    I think the ATM analogy is a good one. While a bank does not charge you a “fee” each time you use it. There are many “fees” tied to the account that you pay to the bank. Checking accounts now have minimum balances to get for “free” , Overdraft your account you pay a fee. So if a portal is under utilized should a printer charge a fee?

    Bottom line for a printer is a portal is going to be set up as a service to automate the procurement process than minimum $ volumes should be expected. Or a discussion with the value the portal creates (reduced cycle time for turnaround, central billing, distributed ordering) that has a separate price for the portal or increased margin on the printed material should be part of the proposal to create a portal. There is no “Free Checking” anymore. 🙂

  2. Clint Bolte on September 17, 2010 at 11:08 am

    One of the inevitable shockers in this self service offering is the number of typos entered by the client creating the need for total reprints and often in rush time frame. The client should be gently reminded that reprints for any reason will be charged as a new and separate job.

    Not charging for the reprint is not good customer service. It is a huge mistake. Printers have eaten AAs cost too long because of a presumed PE somewhere in the job.

  3. Jennifer Matt on September 17, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Greg – thanks for extending the analogy. The mistake I see too often is an over focus on the technology and an under focus on user adoption. Don’t set up a private portal for everyone of your customers without first exploring how users will be acquired. Don’t make any assumptions, too many web to print solutions are implemented and then either never used or grossly underutilized.

    Its easy to blame the customer but printers should take responsibility for the things they have control over. If you’re making a commitment to a portal for a customer, then live the commitment in every day decisions. For instance, direct customers to the portal when they call, order on behalf of customers who e-mail (so they start getting e-mail notifications from the portal). Change happens incrementally and your staff can have a big impact on user adoption.

  4. Jennifer Matt on September 17, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Humans will make mistakes no matter where they are in the business process (customer self service or typesetter at the printer). An elegant user experience with an easy to navigate preview can mitigate a lot of mistakes.

    Your comment reminds me that when looking for a web to print solution – check and see how easy/hard it would be to make changes to the order b/c inevitably mistakes happen and you’ll need to edit some orders before they hit the press.

  5. Dave Hultin on September 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Regarding this comment: “…check and see how easy/hard it would be to make changes to the order b/c inevitably mistakes happen and you’ll need to edit some orders before they hit the press.”

    The customer service part of me says, “Yes Mr. Printer, make the change and save the day for the customer!”

    But the workflow part of me says, “Don’t make that change! As soon as you do, any responsibility for errors is on *your* head.”

    It just seems to me that making changes on behalf of the customer is a very dangerous thing in a web-to-print workflow. But, if you’re talking about allowing the customer to make the change before they commit to the order, then of course I’m all for it and wholeheartedly support your comment!

  6. Jennifer Matt on September 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm


    Great point, mucking with customer content can get you in trouble. As a workflow practice I see your point. Customers make mistakes so if you don’t want to enable editing on your side (because of the points you made) then you have to have an escape hatch – meaning, you have to then at least be able to cancel the order so the customer can reorder. VistaPrint lets you cancel it but then they brilliantly don’t refund your money but give you a VistaPrint credit (keeping you locked into being their customer).

  7. Avrdina Joseph on September 18, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Hi Jennifer,

    Yes, it is not fair to charge customer for the design created by them after order placed.

    It is better to use the web to print solution which provides exact preview of your client created design in PDF before ordering.

  8. Craig Press on September 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    If you’re offering a “Vanilla” web-to-print solution that your competitors offer, then you probably cannot charge your customers to use your online solution. In fact, you should offer a discount because of the money it’s saving your organization – if you have a good web-to-print solution.

    On the other hand, if you have a web-to-print solution that you have customized to address the unique requirements of your customer, you should be charging them to use your online solution. Assuming this solution differentiates you from the competition and you are saving your customer money by automating their buying process. Many printers will charge for items such as: a setup fee per website, a setup fee per marketing campaign, a setup fee per template, etc. Sometimes printing companies will bury these fees in their printing quotes for the customer, so the customer is being charged indirectly with them knowing it.

    If you don’t charge the customers that use your web-to-print solution, you must build the expense of having a web-to-print solution into all your printing prices (as overhead) in order to recover your expenses. Therefore, all customers are paying for your web-to-print solution, whether they use it or not.

  9. Jim on October 4, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    While I agree with the stance that there should net be a reprint done gratis for the customer making a mistake with content, I also feel that it is part of the customer service process to look at every order for it’s accuracy. A caught and fixed typo can lead to a happy customer and a happy customer is a return customer.

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