Wrong Web to Print Solution? Move on!

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Wrong Web to Print Solution? Move on!

I’m frustrated.

I have spoken to several printers in the last week who want to go on and on and on about how the web to print solution they invested in isn’t working for them. They explain in great detail why their customers don’t like it (too hard to use), why their production staff doesn’t like (too hard to use), and why they aren’t happy with the vendor (too hard to work with).

My response is a resounding – MOVE ON. Dump it, stop focusing on the “lack of what you want” and start focusing on the solution. If you know it doesn’t work for you then chalk it up to a poor decision and get on with it. The clock is ticking, customers are expecting you to deliver solutions not excuses. The resistance is most prevalent for printers who licensed software (paid a large upfront fee to “own” the software vs. subscribing to it). This is another reason I don’t like the licensing/ownership model for software – switching solutions is painful because you feel trapped by that large upfront investment.

How do you know when its time to move on? If your customers categorically reject the solution, you picked a solution that doesn’t fulfill on its #1 requirement – a self service order entry tool. Don’t make that mistake again. Usability is the #1 requirement for print ecommerce.

If the only reason the product is still around is because you paid a lot of money for it – then you know its time to move on. Large investments do not make something valuable. I just don’t get the lack of logic here – printers would NEVER keep a press that didn’t perform or produce print that met the customers requirements. Why does everyone lose their common sense when it comes to software?

I refer to the current state of the web to print market as having a large amount of carnage (defined as half implemented, underutilized, products that were either the wrong product for the printer or just plain suck as a solution in general). Its time to drive away from the carnage with the lessons in hand to make a much better decision moving forward. The longer you stew on this, the harder its going to get to rally the troops to get behind the next solution. Leaders make bold moves and keep their eye on the future, not the past.


  1. Clay Forsberg on October 10, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Excellent post Jennifer. As you correctly say, the print environment is littered with the carnage of products and solutions that were sold as the “second coming,” no matter the persuasion. And a lot of them revolve around web to print. Web to print is a great option … in some situations, just as QR Codes and all the rest – but not all.

    But ultimately the there is a sale that needs to be done. A web to print solution is not going to get the person on the other end of the screen to push the sequence of buttons needed to put money in the pockets of the printer.

    Any “technical solution,” is just a tool … a tool that printers and their reps will have to choose amongst, depending on the client or prospect. But again there needs to be a sale first. And that, more than anything, is dependent on the relationship you’ve established with the client, regardless of any technology.

  2. Chuck on October 11, 2010 at 7:35 am

    This post is so correct. And I would add that even if a solution did OK as a self-service order entry tool for a handful of customers, it may not have achieved critical mass for the PSP’s core product set and MOST customers– resulting in a failure to achieve critical mass.

    Failing to achieve critical mass with customers also results in the solution being “too hard” for production because they aren’t processing jobs constantly, so they never feel comfortable with it (even if it is an easy and powerful production interface– but of course, many of the solutions out there are cumbersome).

    On top of what you point out so well, the situation now exists where there are both emerging solutions that are considerably better (i.e., more modern; more like web sites people are used to using at shopping sites). So “cut and run” makes perfect sense under the circumstances you describe, don’t throw good money after bad!

  3. SpongeBobby on October 11, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Well Said Jennifer!

    Yes, there are those that have had a bad experience with the solution they chose. And, yes they did spend a lot of money up front. But, regardless of the solution, it may be meeting the needs of the bell cow client it was purchased for.

    Unfortunately, there is no one solution that fits all. Therefore, if it is meeting the needs and expectations of any of your clients, don’t upset the applecart by making an unwanted change for them. At the same time, don’t ignore the fact that Web-to-Print is a mainstay of the printing industry and is a desireable solution over all. I have been a part of the W2P industry for a decade and can tell you that many of the more successful users of this technology have invested in numerous W2P solutions in order to best meet the needs of individual clients.

    So, as Chuck so elequently reminds us, there are “more modern; more like web sites people are used to using at shopping sites” solutions available today and at price points that are more likely less than the monthly license, maintenance, or service fee they are paying for their initial W2P solution.

    As Jennifer points out, you wouldn’t keep a press that didn’t meet the requirements of a key client. On the other hand, if you have clients that do meet the needs of say your half size 4 color press, you will probably keep it instead of trying to run their jobs economically on your new 6 color full size press your key client requires.

    My advice is not to cut and run, as much as it would be to “stay the course for those that are being satisfactorily served, and invest in current technology to attract the business your competitor is not willing serve by adding additional solutions for their customers. In other words, show the world that you are a innovator and solutions provider in your market and the markets you wish to serve.

  4. Slava Apel on October 11, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Well said, Jennifer.
    Will add to it though.
    Experiment; run two or more web2print sytems side by side and see which gives you the right customer, right conversions, right experience and right automation. It’s the old “A/B test”. More you test it, happier you will be in years to come.

    Afterall, the reason for web to print is to make your and your customer’s life easier.

  5. Jennifer Matt on October 12, 2010 at 9:40 am


    I am a fan of A/B testing but I’m concerned about the overhead this would put on the printer. I believe the sales process should reveal the right solution without having to go into a full blown side by side implementation. I would suggest you ask the final two vendors to set up the same product, they allow customers (non – print people) to walk through both transactions and see which one is easier / more comfortable. This would assure you put usability as a top priority.


  6. Jennifer Matt on October 12, 2010 at 10:05 am


    Why do you think we all get so enamored with the technology and then forget about the business that has to drive it? I am adamant about raising the level of discussion in our industry above the feature level, which is the very bottom of the decision making tree. I want to go to the level of: What’s your online business strategy? Yes, what do you want to do online? Who do you want to target as customers? How do you intend to attract them? What is the sales cycle?

    There is a blur of technology names, features, phrases and stats thrown around (if I hear one more person tell me how many Facebook users there are, I’m going to scream). The tools aren’t important, what’s important is the strategy. VistaPrint isn’t growing because they have the best tools – they have access to the same tools most printers do, their strategy of attacking and capturing the long tail of tiny businesses by serving them online in a self service fashion is brilliant. They rounded up all the customers most printers didn’t want to deal with and figured out how to service them and make a profit. That’s what everyone should be talking about and looking for other opportunities like that.

    Create a strategy first (must include a sales plan) then go shopping for enabling technology that can help you execute on your strategy. Don’t overlook the fact that in the online world you’re working in a different economy (the digital economy) and the customer is in charge – these differences make a huge impact on the sales cycle. Check out my free webinar on the subject Wed Oct 13, 2pm Eastern.

  7. Jennifer Matt on October 12, 2010 at 10:12 am


    Its hard to let go of that investment and I think printers want to demand that vendors “fix the situation” but if you’ve been struggling for months or years without real progress, what would really have to change to reset the relationship and the product? Situations fail for many reasons. Look at the world of sports, a superstar recruit can fail at one team, get traded to another and be phenomenal – I’m not saying its always the fault of the vendor. Partnerships fail because both parties didn’t work through the necessary agreements to succeed. I’ve been in situations where the most inconsequential feature (I’m talking down to a pixel in the wrong place) held up full launch for months)!

    Its easy to point at the software product and say, it doesn’t have the right feature, architecture, etc… but the real failure might be in the minds of the staff – if they don’t want to change, they will get very good at finding flaws in any technology you bring to the table. Aligning your troops up behind your strategy is vital, don’t throw out one solution and then bring all that resistance into the next, it will feel like an expensive ground hog day.


  8. Jennifer Matt on October 12, 2010 at 10:20 am


    You are right – there isn’t one solution for everything, thank goodness because big monolithic software solutions are a thing of the past. I am concerned with procuring a whole host of technologies to service each customer niche, you’re self service (labor reducing) approach has now become a juggling act on the backend and a mess of different ecommerce carts for your customers. The different solutions in this industry support different “product workflows” – this is my phrase to describe the workflow to specify and order different print products. For example, you ask different questions, have access to different assets, for a color calendar vs. a 4/4 brochure. I would call the color calendar a “Photo Product” and the 4/4 brochure an “Ad Hoc Print Product”.

    Vendors are creating different workflows but they are also ALL CREATING shopping environments, shopping carts, and production interfaces. My opinion. You have to start thinking about a platform (the shopping/catalog, cart, and production platform) and then plug in additional product workflows into that platform. This approach allows you to add products and services but keep a single shopping cart and production interface (no juggling).


  9. Jim Lahner on October 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    A portion of W2P “failures” out there can be traced to the difference between a platform and a solution. If you buy boards, nails, and a kitchen sink, there remains the not-trivial matter of learning how to assemble them into a house that someone would like to live in. Successfully “moving on” means understanding the difference between a platform and a solution.

  10. Jennifer Matt on October 13, 2010 at 1:14 pm


    Great point. Moving on is letting go of a bad decision and sunk costs. Understanding that you need a platform in which to build your online business is critical too. We bother ourselves too much on low level stuff like features instead of looking at the web as a whole new business platform which we need to move to.


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