Why Ecommerce Matters (a lot)

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Why Ecommerce Matters (a lot)

The web is the infrastructure enabling the digital economy. How we use the web continues to evolve in amazing ways, you only need to look at the stratospheric growth of Facebook users worldwide as proof.

I went to a fundraiser this week for a friend who suffered a serious head injury while traveling abroad. I attended the party in San Francisco; there were four fundraisers in four cities that night – all organized through Facebook. Most of us made our donations via a Facebook app. We are planning our offline lives online; we are making virtually every kind of transaction online (including donations to friends in need).

As we move more and more of our lives onto the digital infrastructure and into the digital economy, businesses of all types have to go where their customers are; for virtually every target market those customers are online.

Being online via a “brochure like website” doesn’t qualify as participation anymore. The digital economy expects to be able to engage and transact. Online transactions have evolved from enabling simple to very complex products; we have gone from books to procuring enterprise CRM solutions via a self-service eCommerce transaction. Yes, today you can go to salesforce.com, sign up and start using their service immediately.

What has this got to do with print? Print is still one of the largest markets on the planet, and less than 3% is transacted online. What the hell are we waiting for?

I’ve heard all the excuses and rationalizations:

  1. Our product is too complex
    • The web is supporting custom manufactured products and transactions that are far more complex than print today.
  2. Our high touch service is our differentiator
    • For very complex print solutions that may be true, but your customers need options and self-service ecommerce is one they expect.
  3. Our customers aren’t capable of placing orders online
    • Rephrase – you haven’t provided software that enables your customer to order print online.
  4. Doing ecommerce makes me a commodity
    • The manner in which items are purchased doesn’t make something a commodity; some print products are commodities – no matter how they are purchased.

Ecommerce is no longer considered innovative; the lack of ecommerce is being negligent. Your customers are online, if you don’t have any ecommerce options – you’re forcing them to go offline for every transaction. Don’t be surprised if they’re ignoring your offline/manual/high touch call to actions such as “call us” / “request a quote” / “send me a file” etc… and clicking to a competitor that enables them to actually purchase.

It’s a reality; print has a lot more competition these days in the information market. I agree that printers need to consider expanding their products and services into digital products, but the first step in this transition is to embrace ecommerce and participate fully in the digital economy with the products you sell today.

What percentage of your business is transacted online today? Is this a metric you’re even tracking? Get off the bench and into the game, once you’re on the field you can choose to play multiple roles, offer a variety of products and services, your customers are online and they expect to transact with you there.


  1. Marco on August 29, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I totally agree. Web2Print can help a printer out for sure. Another thing could be to let a client request a instant quote for a print job.

  2. Jennifer Matt on August 31, 2010 at 10:00 am


    Virtually everything you do offline (like a quote request) needs to be offered online. There is a growing number of people who look to online first and sometimes ONLY as their procurement option, if you want to keep doing business with this growing number of people you have to open up ecommerce for virtually all your products and services.


  3. Barry Walsh on September 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    There are 2 kinds of companies in the print business.

    ..Ones that are using or looking to use tools like the web to drive out costs.
    …And those that can’t or won’t be able to compete price wise.

    “How can I charge for this activity (touching the job) or how do I eliminate it” has to be a question you ask about every activity you do or pay people to do.

    “That’s how the job has always gotten done” might as well be what you settle on as the epitaph for your soon to be oil dinosaur of a print company.

  4. Jennifer Matt on September 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm


    Great points. As I’ve moved my perspective back over the last year, I’ve realized that the pressure to automate the print manufacturing process is driven by the incredible efficiencies of the new digital infrastructure. Organizations can communicate with millions of people across various tools for almost nothing, instantaneously – that’s a long ways away from forcing people to understand FTP, make 2 phone calls, and not understand what the final price will be until its almost done!


  5. Dave on January 19, 2011 at 11:33 am


    Great post that I just now found.

    Your 3% statistic (% of print transacted online) is interesting/encouraging/startling/alarming depending on one’s industry perspective.

    What is the source or basis of your estimation?



  6. Jennifer Matt on January 23, 2011 at 7:57 pm


    I got the 3% from PIA study, it is now 12 months old so I would suspect the number has jumped a few points by now. Even if it jumped 10% its still way too low.


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