You might not be able to stand to hear it anymore, but yes, the pandemic has presented most companies with major challenges over the past two years. It has acted as a catalyst and accelerated developments. At the same time, as Roland Keppler, CEO of Onlineprinters, described it at the Online Print Symposium 2022, the Corona crisis has also provided positive momentum. But what does this have to do with sabre-toothed tigers or surfing?
As a former CEO of various companies in the travel and tourism industry, Roland Keppler can speak to the crisis: He has experienced the attacks of September 11, 2001, the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, and the Air Berlin bankruptcy – all the while calmly steering the companies for which he was responsible through the respective crises. With the industry change and his position as CEO of Onlineprinters, things were supposed to be a bit quieter when it came to crises, but no sooner had he taken over his duties from Dr. Michael Fries in the summer of 2019 had Corona come along and turned everything upside down.
What was once taken for granted no longer seemed to apply, uncertainties in supply chains and a change in ordering behaviour took their toll. However, Roland Keppler is certain that this volatility has already become part of society and will continue to be part of the new normal in the future. But burying one’s head in the sand is not an option: “It will depend on how we deal with it. After all, the days when things were easy and plannable and continuous are over,” says Keppler. From his time in the aviation industry, he said, he has taken with him an important guiding principle that applies especially in times of crisis: “First things first” – loosely translated to: the important things first. Alternatively, expressed with an image from the Stone Age: “When the sabre-toothed tiger appears in front of the cave, it’s quickly clear what’s at stake.” For Onlineprinters, these “first things” in 2020 were above all the hygiene concept and securing liquidity – precisely what was needed to safeguard the continuation of production.
Remaining capable of action, setting priorities
“Suddenly, the priorities are clear: focus, safeguarding, protecting employees and developing solutions,” the CEO enumerated, referring to the positive stimuli and learnings he was able to, in retrospect, draw from the pandemic period. Firstly: The companies, which had previously operated very independently – after all, the Group also includes service providers in the UK and Denmark – have grown closer together. And secondly: “You have to find a personal attitude to the crisis, think in long-term scenarios and check to what extent you are prepared for it. We still benefit today from the fact that we saw ourselves as capable of acting, that we were able to find solutions,” he explained. But that includes taking employees’ concerns seriously and “communicating, communicating, communicating.”
But the pandemic has also caused an acceleration of developments in the market. “Volatility is a framework, not a trend. It’s here to stay, and we’re going to have to manage it just like we have to manage labour availability, paper shortages or price increases.”
Trend: channel shift
In addition to these general conditions, however, the CEO also sees four major trends that will move the online print industry in the future. One is the “channel shift” from the offline to the online world. This is because, he says, the proportion of online orders in the print industry is still relatively low compared to other industries – or, to put it another way, there is still a lot of potential upsides. “The good news is that online print continues to grow,” explained Roland Keppler. “Personally, I believe that in a few years we will already see a share of 50 percent in relevant markets.”
But online print also needs to be rethought, he said, “because the market is entering a new phase. We now have experienced users and more intense competition. Technology and internationalization are becoming more important, and new players are entering the market with a different approach. These are all challenges that we have to find an answer to.”
Consolidation and consumerization
Keppler sees the second major trend, which began well before the crisis, in consolidation. To meet future challenges, he said, companies would be well advised to join forces with other companies. After all, in an alliance, he said, it is easier to gain access to international supply chains, make production more efficient or achieve economies of scale. In addition, he said, it is easier to respond to new trends, such as “consumerization,” which is the third trend. By this, he meant the increased expectations of customers, whose buying behaviour today is primarily shaped by Amazon and Co. “Relationship is defined differently in online business than in the analogue world,” said Roland Keppler. That’s why it’s important to look closely and find the criteria that prevent customers from ordering online, he says.
Showing attitude when it comes to sustainability
Demands have also risen when it comes to sustainability – the fourth trend. It has long since ceased to play a role solely in the choice of paper, but is also an important criterion in financing issues, in discussions with investors or when recruiting employees. According to Keppler, it is all the more important to take a stand on trends like these: “Neutral is no longer an option. Every industry, every company has to find a stance on the current issues,” he explained. “We have to deal with it and work on our image, because we have a lot of good things to offer. It is impossible to imagine our society without the topic of printing. That’s why we need to focus even more on the value that the industry has.”
Roland Keppler is therefore also positive about the future of online printing: “I believe that there are plenty of opportunities ahead of us. You just have to take the developments seriously and face the challenges. The essential parameters that are and were important for us are still intact – even the volatility doesn’t change that.”
The signs point to a “boom”
On the second day of the Online Print Symposium, Andreas Otto, Chief Commercial Officer of the Albelli-Photobox Group, provided a change of perspective that illuminated the trends already mentioned against the background of the photo printing market. The group, which was formed at the beginning of the year by the merger of Albelli and Photobox, is one of the largest photo printing providers in Europe and primarily serves end customers and thus the B2C market. So it’s no surprise that the albelli-Photobox Group is keeping a close eye on how this customer group is developing and responding to the offerings of its now seven brands.
To find out, the group uses the so-called NPS, the Net Promoter Score. This asks customers of the photo portals to rate their purchase based on various criteria. “This allows us to track exactly which factors contribute to customers recommending us to others – or not. A healthy NPS is over 60, and the albelli-Photobox Group consistently achieves this value in its core markets – at least when all the factors surrounding the order are ideally integrated. If, for example, there are delivery problems or problems with shipping, this is very quickly visible in the NPS.
Although the group is still in the middle of the integration phase shortly after the merger, Andreas Otto was able to provide interesting insights into the trends that are in particular shaping the photo printing market.
The cell phone as an access point to online
“While Roland Keppler spoke of the channel shift from offline to online, the shift in our market is more from web to mobile,” explained the CCO. Here, the smartphone plays the central role, as more and more is being done directly on the cell phone bypassing a fixed PC, photo product design included. “Customer expectations in terms of digital user experience, the check-out process, payment methods or the multi-platform journey, delivery times and costs are strongly influenced by Amazon. This means for us and the digital platforms we operate that we have to remain highly innovative and invest in exactly these things. This development never stops,” Andreas Otto explained. The third trend he mentioned, similar to Keppler’s remarks, is sustainability, which the albelli-Photobox-Group takes into account, among other things, by successively making its sites CO2-neutral.
Wedding boom, baby boom – photo boom?
Against this background, Andreas Otto was optimistic at OPS 2022, even though the last two years have been a rollercoaster ride for the photo products market: “In the first year of the pandemic, we experienced a tremendous boom; a year later, the lack of travel and events meant that we literally lacked the ‘ammunition’ to create enough photo products,” he explained.
But now that events are back and travel is possible without major restrictions, the professional expects business to pick up. “Customers just need to have great experiences so they want to capture those moments again in tactile form or give them as gifts.”
This development and the broad market penetration following the merger of albelli and Photobox are the basis for further expansion, he says: “Our goal is to increase the seven million customers we currently have in Europe to ten million customers in the next three years.”