Video Instant Messaging: attractive new buying channels in the online print industry?

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The online print industry has been using social networks as a marketing channel for some time now. Are they about to be joined by WhatsApp video chats and Skype?

Regular readers of my blog posts here at beyond-print know that I routinely tackle the subject of mobile end devices and their significance for the online print industry. Several of the (larger) online print providers regularly share news and information via social networks and chatbots provide advice and support to customers on websites if needed as backup to regular employees (even though I usually find chatbots thoroughly tedious and many customers tend to feel like they’ve been fooled). Would direct vendor-buyer communication via a messenger service make sense in the online print industry as a complement to existing services? I have taken a closer look at this whole issue, given that various aspects like dissemination, legal foundation and the question of whether use of a qualitative service constitutes value being added are associated with it.

I don’t need to say anything about the prevalence/spread and usage of mobile end devices – nearly 10 years after the launch of the first iPhones, these devices are indeed just one thing – indispensable. What is interesting though is how many smartphone and tablet owners use established instant messaging services and are therefore potential customers, who can be reached via tablet or smartphone video chat. Well now, quite a lot has happened on the usage figure front since I wrote an article about WhatsApp as a communication channel for online print providers in May 2016.

More and more people are using the instant messaging service featuring the green dialog bubble – but does it make sense for the online print industry to use this messenger service? Source: allfacebook.de

During the course of 2016 the number of active WhatsApp users increased by a further 200 million, meaning it remains the most dominant messenger service at 1.2 billion users worldwide. But let’s not forget that most users limit themselves to the text chat function or to sometimes frivolous voice messages. And what’s the story with Skype, that “well-established” and likewise free video contact option? Some 300 million people worldwide made use of this option in 2016. If you believe the statistics provided by Statista, then registered Skype users worldwide will number some 1.64 billion by the year 2020. Some 100 million new users will be added every year from the current year (2017) onwards. Although several people use both services, that nevertheless still leaves nearly 2 billion video contact opportunities (mark you, provided just by the two most prominent providers).

The most difficult question to answer is in what instances does it make more sense to offer video advisories rather than relying on purely text-based communication. The principle is only applied in a small handful of cases. And up to now there is not very much information available about really successful eCommerce use of both the above-mentioned services. But I have come across specific providers that offer “live video shopping software” especially for retailers, primarily from the clothing segment. For example, Paypal can also be integrated as a payment system into their software. From my perspective however, these offerings are not (yet) anything to write home about, given that downloads are not available and pricing at 100 Euros and upwards per month is not something that smaller retailers or even smaller online print providers can really afford, given the range of free options available.

Communicating with your online print provider by tablet via Skype from home or while traveling – a distant dream? Source: droid-life.com

Current and future providers of video advisory services and eCommerce or online print buying options will definitely need to gain confidence in handling video. The text chats that some online print providers offer as a customer service on their websites are, from a provider’s perspective, certainly easier to handle than a video chat. A professional demeanor is just as vital in a video chat as it is in a face-to-face conversation, which is why salespeople or advisers that have been trained to handle video may be needed, depending on the complexity of the conversation.

“There is certainly potential for video chats in the online print industry, but what is still not clear is how intensively users will utilize this channel. Nevertheless video chat would be a possible solution in the domestic and international online print industry, especially for the purposes of explaining complex print products.” – Bernd Zipper

Are there any actual scenarios in the online print industry in which video chat offers advantages compared with text chat? That’s a difficult one, quite honestly, because could a customer obtain more information from a visually supported conversation via a mobile end device than from a “normal” conversation? Given their performance capabilities, most tablets, for example, allow you to design print products in the editor programs. And plenty of online print providers also offer live imaging of configured/designed products. So that just leaves the advisory, which would come across as more personal in any communication via video… And this would be a starting point for explaining complex print products. I just can’t get enough of the term “virtual haptics”, i.e. the simulation and visualization of print products, to make them more “tangible” for the consumer. And it’s exactly in this context that a video chat could make sense. The factor of time in particular could once again play a major role here – in an age of short print lead times, dummy productions runs or even samples could be presented in 1-on-1 conversations and then commissioned. That is definitely an option, especially where complex bookbinding work is involved. Proof approval via video chat is not beyond the realms of possibility either – but this is likely to remain a pipedream for a long while yet, as video images don’t deliver the same kind of accuracy and precision as real proof approval by “humans”.

At least the issue of legal safeguards in connection with the use of WhatsApp for commercial purposes has been clarified – in contrast to the rather more sobering facts contained in my article from last year. That’s because since WhatsApp’s GTCs were published in German, commercial usage is no longer forbidden – in contrast to when that previous article about this channel was written. The following has been stated in WhatsApp’s Data Privacy Policy since August 2016: “Commercial messages. We will permit you and third parties, such as companies, to communicate via WhatsApp for example, to share information about orders, transactions and deadlines, delivery and shipping notifications, product, service and marketing updates” (Source: whatsapp.com/legal/#terms-of-service).

My take: Obviously the use of Skype and the video chat function on WhatsApp may represent a channel for communicating with customers in future to both online and offline print providers. In order to deliver virtual advisory services, print providers that are not yet online could start offering an advisory option quickly without having to establish their own stores. However as far as the online print industry is concerned, I don’t think that many customers will finalize their orders via video chat for the time being, because mapping the print product ordering process would be too complex, even as part of a conversation with the provider. And other legal issues could play a role as far as these services are concerned. But there are currently scenarios for providing video advisories via smartphone or tablet that make more sense when text chat isn’t up to the job. However while that option sounds appealing for now, we’ll have to see whether and for how long it remains a distant dream in the online print industry.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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