Actually, online print shops can look to the future with confidence. Because they can print anything, as they have internalized the “online” sales channel, and because they deliver high quality at high speed – and at low prices, too. What’s more, the last three years have shown how extremely flexible they can be, even in volatile markets. And yet it is important to roll up one’s sleeves and not lose touch, as Bernd Zipper explained at the Online Print Symposium 2023. Because the competition is not just coming from within the company.
The list of today’s problems is long – war, inflation, energy and material costs, a shortage of skilled workers – and it affects not only companies in the printing industry, but all sectors and all company sizes. At last year’s Online Print Symposium, Bernd Zipper spoke of the resilience of online print service providers. “But the situation has changed,” he noted this year. Because although the online print industry has learned that flexibility is a fundamental part of the business model and that online print is also the evolutionary reactor of the entire printing industry worldwide, the slogan “full steam ahead” has long since ceased to be sufficient. “Because I notice that we as online print do have the feeling within our bubble that we’re right at the forefront. But – pardon me – in the e-commerce game, none of us are frontrunners, not even Cimpress or Flyeralarm.”
Is Onlineprint losing the plot?
What did he mean? “In the future, our biggest competitors in online print will not be those with whom we are still ‘wrangling’ in the market today, but the big online big players and marketplaces such as Amazon and Google, who are simply ten years ahead of us in terms of online strategies and who will sooner or later focus on the same topics that we are actually good at. After all, we’ve shown them what can be automated.” But online print is now on the verge of losing touch, according to the expert’s thoroughly critical analysis, namely when it comes to the developments that play a particular role in the behavior of today’s and tomorrow’s customer groups.
Social commerce and conversational commerce change mindsets
“We have another issue; one that has eluded most so far, and that is the issue of social commerce. If we want to sell online print better, we need to look at social commerce more,” was his urgent appeal. In doing so, Bernd Zipper also allowed objections such as “we are in the B2B environment”, “we want high-volume and not Facebook users who want to have pillows printed” or “young people are not interested in print” to stand. Because, “if we want to generate more sales, we have to think more about how the customer is on the move today and in the future. We have to develop a customer orientation.” He said it’s about picking up the potential customer where they are and making it as easy as possible for them. “Social commerce is what will drive us, and it spans all industries.”
The special thing about this, he said, is not just the development of social commerce as predicted by Statista or Accenture, among others, or as even B2B examples from the screw manufacturer Würth impressively showed – the special thing about it is that the roles on social media can no longer be separated. Because even if someone is a manager at a large branded company, and in his or her free time is a private person on Instagram, Facebook and the like, the things he or she sees there remain in the mind.
Social commerce – and also conversational commerce as a special form of commerce that relies on dialog with the customer – are changing the world of thinking, said Bernd Zipper with certainty, namely away from product orientation and toward customer orientation. The aim is to get closer to the customer – for example, through the use of communication services such as messenger apps or chatbots – and through the use of AI tools.
Artificial intelligence turns everything upside down
Because even if you were to count out the current hype surrounding artificial intelligence, the realization remains that the wheel of time cannot be turned back and AI technologies will not fade away. On the contrary, they have long since arrived and have more power and destructive potential than many can imagine. It is also artificial intelligence that, according to Zipper, will turn all industries – and thus also the online print world – upside down. Here, too, it is all the more important to “do the homework that is due NOW in order to be and remain capable of acting in the future.”
What is this homework in concrete terms? True digitization, a re-platforming of one’s store environment, establishing agile ways of working, building interdisciplinary teams and developing new skills, especially in dealing with AI. “We can play around with it today, but can we make money with it?” asked Zipper rhetorically. “No, but we can and must learn to deal with it” – and ideally develop business models that take advantage of AI.
Not without a look at the figures
And since a look into the future usually goes hand in hand with a look at the current situation in online print, this year’s insights into the inner workings of the online print world were of course also indispensable. According to zipcon consulting, online-generated print volumes will continue to grow in the coming years, and will even account for more than 40 percent of total print volumes in Western Europe by 2025. And when we look at the top 5 online printers in Germany – Cewe, Flyeralarm, Cimpress, Onlineprinters and Celebrate – the signs are also pointing to growth. Not only has the Corona-related dip in sales been overcome, according to Zipper’s assessment, the figures are now back above the pre-pandemic level and, taken together, are even just scraping the two billion euro sales mark. As far as the prices that online print shops call up are concerned, the ZOPI, the Zipcon Online Print Price Index, regularly reflects the development. Here, too, it has been apparent over the last few months in particular that providers are passing on the higher costs to customers – and, as Bernd Zipper pointed out last year, customers are also accepting these higher prices.
Roll up your sleeves
However, in order for the graphs, whether they show the development of online-generated print volumes or sales figures, to continue to point upwards in the future, commitment is needed, because, according to Zipper, the market does not sleep – and developments such as social and conversational commerce or AI are here to stay and will change the way online print shops address their customers. There is no reason to panic about this, however, at least not for those companies that do their homework and embrace the new opportunities and technologies. Those who are prepared to change their way of thinking can continue to be the reaction engine of the printing industry.
If you want to know exactly what the lecture on trends and developments in online printing, which has long since become a tradition, was all about, you can watch the OPS lecture in German and in full here: