Understanding Web to Print Product Workflows

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Understanding Web to Print Product Workflows

Procuring print online via a self service order entry ecommerce solution (frequently called web to print) spans a wide spectrum of print and print related products. The user experience online for procuring a poster vs. a business card needs to be different based on the different attributes you need to collect for these products.

For example a business card requires a personalization step, previewing, ordering by the box, and potentially an approval process (both for content and procurement). Whereas ordering a poster may involve uploading a file, choosing to scale it, ordering by area, choosing paper stock, and potentially finishing like mounting etc… Because the interaction is self service, the key is to ask the user only questions relevant to their product.

None of this is new to printers; we instinctively change gears or job tickets when taking orders for different print products. Our online business needs to do the same thing but we can’t rely on instincts or a CSR to make these distinctions – the software has to do it.

I call these different ordering workflows, “product workflows” because they represent a product that the customer is ordering and the process that customer needs to be led through in order to collect all the necessary information and assets to both price and produce the job.

Why bother naming things like product workflows, or talking about what’s obvious to us offline? Sometimes the obvious causes us to make assumptions that end up negatively impacting us down the road. Just because a vendor markets their product as a web to print solution doesn’t mean they support all the potential product workflows.

The scenario I find the most frustrating and all too common is the printer enters the vendor selection phase without clearly defining what they want to sell online and who they want to sell it to. The vendor demonstrates their solution in a generic fashion and the printer ends up choosing a vendor who doesn’t actually support the products they want to sell. We all want to avoid this scenario because its frustrating for both vendor and printer. The key to avoiding this scenario as well as getting clear on your existing implementation of web to print software is to clearly define what kind of products and services you want to offer to your customers via a self service online ordering tool. The following definitions will guide you through this process, first I differentiate between product workflows where the customer provides the content in an ad hoc fashion during the ordering process vs. the content has already been posted to the ecommerce solution and the customer simply shops for content and potentially personalizes it.

3 Categories of Print Product Workflows:

  1. Print Media: User Content
    • A print media workflow that involves the customer providing the content as part of the product workflow in an ad hoc fashion. This means the printer doesn’t actually know about the content prior to the order being placed. The content is typically uploaded in this product workflow or selected from the users online library of files, something emerging is the ability to connect to content consolidators on the web (Slideshare, Scribd) or content that is stored in the cloud (Google Apps)
  2. Print Media: Hosted Content
    • A print media hosted content workflow where the print provider has pre-loaded content on the site for print buyers to shop from inside an online catalog.
  3. Other / Misc.:
    • Workflows that are either a combination of workflows (kits), misc. products that are often sold with printed products, etc…

5 Print Media: User Content Product Workflows

  1. Ad Hoc Documents
    • Definition: A product workflow which includes collecting files, potentially combining those files, and then specifying how those files will be printed and finished.
    • Manufacturing: Typically digital products printed in short runs on cut sheet digital devices.
    • Example: training manual
  2. Ad Hoc Digital
    • Definition: A product workflow which includes collecting files, associated assets and print specifications.
    • Manufacturing: Typically printed in short runs, on cut sheet digital devices.
    • Example: brochure
  3. Ad Hoc Oversize
    • Definition: A product workflow which includes collecting file assets and digital print specifications (including final size, intended resolution, finishing such as foam core mounting, etc…).
    • Manufacturing: Typically printed in short runs, on roll fed plotters.
    • Example: poster
  4. Ad Hoc Offset
    • Definition: A product workflow which includes collecting file assets (could include native files, linked images, fonts, etc…) and offset print specifications (4over4, varnish, finished size, etc…)
    • Manufacturing: Printed on commercial offset presses
    • Example: annual report
  5. Photo Products
    • Definition: A product workflow which includes the utilization of photo assets to create any number of products (e.g. calendars, cards, etc…) Each photo product has unique steps (e.g. calendar vs. card) but the share the same requirement of access to photo libraries and the ability to upload and store photos within the application.
    • Manufacturing: Typically printed on digital presses
    • Example: photo calendar

7 Print Media: Hosted Content Product Workflows

  1. Static POD Catalog
    • A print product that is hosted in an online catalog and printed on demand when ordered from the catalog. Print specifications generally range from completely locked down to partially locked down during the ordering process.
  2. Fulfillment
    • A print product that is hosted in an online catalog and pulled from inventory when ordered.
  3. VDP (single record – form fill)
    • A versioned print product whose template is hosted inside an online catalog, the customer can add variable data to the template via an online form. The resulting product is a single record file which was “composed” by combining the template and the variable data.
  4. VDP (multiple record – list fill)
    • A personalized print product whose template is hosted inside an online catalog, the customer can add variable date via a list (either uploaded or purchased). The resulting product is a multiple record file which was “composed” by combining the template and the variable data list to create (n) of unique records.
  5. VDP (Hybrid Data Source)
    • A personalized print product whose template is hosted inside an online catalog, the customer can add BOTH form and list data to the same product. For example, a photo of a house, the name of the realtor, the house price, (form fill) + upload a mailing list to send the piece to (list fill).
  6. VDP (design online)
    • A personalized print product whose template or “design parameters” are hosted inside an online catalog, the customer can design their product using browser based tools. For example, I want to design my own business card – I upload a logo, choose a font, typeset my information, and arrange the text and graphics (layout) in the browser.
  7. VDP (personalized images)
    • A personalized print product whose template is hosted inside an online catalog, the customer can personalize the image. For example, an image of a beach has something written in the sand, the customer can type their name and it appears embedded in the image in the sand.

4 Other Misc. Product Workflows:

  1. Non Print Catalog
    • Non print is a catch all product type that might need to be supported in conjunction with print products. For example, a customer wants to sell training binders but also include notebooks and pens as part of the training kit. The notebooks and pens would have to be supported in the catalog as non print products.
  2. Promotional Products
    • Products that are branded with a logo for use in marketing or promotional programs, other names include advertising specialties. Common examples of promotional products include ball caps, shirts, and coffee mugs.
  3. Quote Requests
    • The ability for a print buyer to describe a print order and request a quote for the job online.
  4. Kits
    • The combination of one or more products into a single catalog product that can be ordered together. Pricing options typically include either a set price or a combination price of the individual products.

Printers can review these workflows and analyze what product workflows they want to support online. This might be a combination of products and services they support today offline and a few products and services that they want to expand into in the future.

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