Brick-and-mortar retailers operate stores that are freely accessible to everyone. And there are wholesalers that are exclusively available to traders. Similar structures can also be found in virtual, electronically supported commerce known as digital commerce. While some of the online stores are B2C, others focus on B2B customers. The respective orientation is also reflected in different models for online stores. Lately, the possibilities are blending across the concepts. However: not all online shops are the same.
Before a company decides to market its products and services via digital channels, its focus, target group, portfolio and underlying processes should be precisely defined. For print shops in particular, which (can) serve both private and business customers, there are different approaches and possibilities: for example, on the one hand the Closed Shop and on the other the Open Shop.
This article is not an academic dissertation on the terminology of digital commerce. It is intended to create an awareness of the extent to which the two systems differ fundamentally from one another.
Online stores are in demand
In Germany, there are hundreds of thousands of online stores in every conceivable sector and market: from clothing to books, from electronic items to furnishings, from food to lifestyle products. There’s nothing you can’t buy online – and that includes print products. It is therefore logical that – parallel to the general growth in e-commerce – the number of online print shops in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is also growing steadily. The overview on beyond-print.de alone now lists more than 300 companies. However, the print stores whose online shops can be found in the traditional way via an Internet search and are therefore accessible to everyone are only part of the overall online print market.
Open Shop versus Closed Shop
The concept behind this is that of the open store. The term does not refer to opening hours – after all, all stores on the Internet are open around the clock. Rather, it refers to the fact that this store is open to everyone, i.e., it can be categorized primarily as business-to-consumer (B2C). Conversely, the concept of a closed store describes a sales platform that is only made available to a closed circle of customers – and ergo cannot be found via an Internet search. These systems are thus generally based on relationships with business customers and thus take place in the business-to-business (B2B) sector. But the two systems also differ in other respects:
Open and restricted access
In an open store system, for example, the entry of customer and address data (whether registration for a customer account or guest order) usually takes place only at the end of the ordering process, in the shopping cart and checkout process. In a closed store, the entry of login data occurs at the very beginning and is what enables access to the store environment in the first place, i.e., authentication.
In addition, the store environment itself in a closed store is usually adapted to the respective customer, and this not only refers to the visual appearance: There is a product portfolio that has been specially compiled and limited for the customer company, and it is not uncommon for the logos and CI data to already be stored so that the employees of the customer company who are authorized to access the store only have to enter their personal data. A selection of different print runs, payment methods and delivery addresses is also already created, so that the products can be configured and ordered quickly. Inspection and approval mechanisms can also be integrated. Closed stores are also usually closely integrated into the print shop’s production. They must offer native interfaces to the print service provider’s ERP system, so that demand and production planning and accounting can be automated.
Search engine optimization
However, this does not mean that Open Shops cannot be integrated well into existing processes. How well depends not least on the systems and software solutions used in production and their interfaces. However, Open Shops differ from their “closed” counterparts in other respects. Visually, they reflect the CI of the operator, i.e., the print shop, and offer an extremely wide range of products. The biggest difference to the closed store, however, is that open stores are usually already search engine optimized in their structure and also offer further options for SEO measures. This is actually logical, since Open Shops should be displayed to as many users as possible on the search engine results pages.
Speaking of SEO, entrepreneurs and store operators need a lot of experience and a clear strategy, regardless of the software. Some print shops are celebrating their 50th, 60th or even more than 100th anniversary. Those among them that are still successful today have long since developed a concept for their digital transformation and are working consistently to implement it – every day! After all, operating an online store – just like the entire digital transformation – is not a one-off, but a continuous project for which there is something to do every day.
The right solution for every purpose
But back to the actual topic: open stores and closed stores thus pursue a different approach – and are usually specialized in one or the other in their entire range of functions. Store software providers that specialize in print shops or a portfolio of printed products, such as be.beyond, Obility, CloudLab, Gelato or rissc (whose main product is the printformer editor), therefore usually offer two different solutions; one for closed store use, the other for an open store.