12 web-to-print pitfalls to avoid in 2021

The growing digitalization has propelled e-commerce into the most rewarding business venture in 2021 for web-to-printers everywhere. Ludovic Martin is a renowned European expert in online printing and brings years of experience to the table. Because before you know how to do it right, you need to know how you might be doing it wrong. We asked Ludovic to share the 12 most common pitfalls project owners must avoid when doing web-to-print.

I’ve been driving online B2B & B2C printing projects for twenty years now, as an employee and as a consultant. Emergencies seem to be my specialty, because in most cases, I got called in by desperate CEOs who suddenly realized their expensive platform is burning cash, instead of processing orders.

My experience taught me that online printing wants the e-commerce perks, but it is unprepared for e-commerce threats, and the specific constraints generated by the customization process. This turns any dream goal into a nightmare reality. Take heed before you proceed, learn from the mistakes of others.

I have gathered the most frequent pitfalls I have encountered in online printing and am sharing 12 below for you. Read on, and let me know: which one would you have done, and how will you go about it instead?

Pitfall #1: Rushing into web-to-print.

The COVID-19 momentum had B2B purchasers shift to online sourcing, much to the horror of many companies. Their salesmen/women stuck at the office or at home, with only limited capabilities to visit customers or find new prospects - these companies realized they were invisible on the web and losing customers to the competition.

In a rush, they hurried to purchase an online store, or worse, build it without thinking it through. But fear is a bad advisor. Launching a website is not like starting a car: it won’t leave your parking if you don’t fuel it. The storefront is not the beginning of something; it's the end of a strategic pivot process.

Don’t rush your decision making or buying process. You’ll only find yourself burning cash and losing energy.

What’s the best way to get started with web-to-print?

Do your homework. Even if you’re in a hurry, building a global e-commerce strategy for your company will prove the best investment in the long run. Set short- and long-term goals and make sure to involve all your departments for input and feedback. E-commerce will impact everyone in your business, they must be included in this project, from the kick-off. Build an OKR Plan that is clear for everyone and implement it rapidly through agile marketing methods. Think workshops to identify customers' requirements, market changes, competitive landscape, etc. First come vision and strategy, next team, and then web-to-print.

Pitfall #2: My online business needs to be a separate brand.

I understand you want to name the brand-new puppy. Many print service providers think that turning their e-commerce platform into a new brand or even business unit, will propel their solution to new successes. They often believe that their online customers will be different from their offline ones, and sometimes, they even fear the reaction of their existing customers discovering the online price list.

Creating a distinct brand for online customers is the certified way to generate silos within your organization. Any brand requires tailored marketing: separate customer care service, new phone number, a dedicated website, new social media profiles to create and manage. You’ll end up doing everything twice, paying twice, and managing two brands at infinitum.

Let me tell you what you'll end up learning:
  1. that you’re not able to animate different brands efficiently
  2. that your customers quickly grasped that you’re the one company behind these brands. And they think it’s nonsense.
How do I best position my online business?

Don’t think constraints, think customers. You know purchasers and consumers research product information and prices on the web. They don’t call sales service. They want to get the information ASAP, with the option to place an order instantly. However, it never hurts to add your personal touch to the post-purchase experience. You’ll see they appreciate getting a call or a visit from an expert salesman/woman to check if they need advice or a more specific quote. Why not build a customer journey that navigates smartly between online and offline touchpoints, and creates a unique user experience? I recommend strengthening your current brand by offering your e-commerce channel as an additional service, not an add-on brand. Your customers will understand this move; you'll make it easier for your marketing and sales operations to extend their services, not to mention for all employees who will see this as the next logical step in the company's evolution (and not the next crazy CEO start-up idea!)

Pitfall #3: Time to get techno-centric!

Well, no. The biggest mistake most CEOs commit is asking their IT manager or their web agency to manage the e-commerce project in autonomy.

In my experience, this sets off the “The Babylon Tower syndrome”: you want to build it from scratch, using the latest and coolest of technologies, not taking into account what it is your customers need.

Before you know it, your company turned into a web-to-print software editor, instead of a sales generating tool. Good luck with your incredibly expensive black box that won’t be able to process any order for many months but will have you knee-deep in integration software hell.

How do I take care of the technical setup of my e-commerce platform?

Get to the core of e-commerce: COMMERCE. Put your most customer-centric people in charge of managing the project. Ask them to analyze and map the technological landscape, referencing all SaaS solutions and plug&print systems that could be useful. Ask them to outline limits in terms of delivery time, budget, decisions, and reporting. You’ll need to define clear objectives and explain which results are expected so that they'll make the right decisions. Organize regular short committees to get an overview of the progress of the project, and steer only where you must. I always recommend driving the project in an agile way, with workshops involving customers, employees, and developers. Working this way will avoid the “black box syndrome” – you’ll be a shareholder steering where needed but trusting the process in the capable hands of the people who have what it takes to realize your vision.

Pitfall #4: In e-commerce only sales & marketing matter.

I can’t stress this enough: hire a customer-centric person as a product owner or project manager. However, this doesn’t mean that your online printing platform is a Sales or Marketing department prerogative. You don’t want to wind up with a beautiful storefront, filled with helpful features, but most likely impossible to run and operate.

If you haven’t involved your operations team, get ready to deal with operational post-purchase failure. Your features, aggressive pricing, and good UX will reel customers in, but you’ll lose them after the first purchase because everything will go wrong after the order has been placed.

Be more than a pretty logo on the wall of poor operability shame.

How do I pitch the new e-commerce setup to my employees?

Think agile and involve ALL the departments of your company in this project. Going web-to-Print is a significant strategic move in transforming a printing company. The online printing platform will impact all departments, from finances to shipping, not to mention HR that will need to recruit new digital profiles. I recommend mapping out the order flow from the storefront to the delivery. Make sure to involve every department in the step they need to be involved with during workshops, validation, and test sessions. If they could voice their opinion on how orders will be processed, on the choice of tools, or the processes, they'll adopt the e-commerce more quickly in their workflow and will resist less to the changes at hand. Profitability and employee satisfaction – don't underestimate their power.

Pitfall #5: Launch it, and they will come.

Web-to-print platform owners are often so obsessed by the project itself (developing the website, creating a nice UI, plugging it to the production workflows, handling invoicing…) that they forget to attract an audience, let alone take care of existing customers.

They think that the market has been waiting for their online solution, with customers rushing to the storefront as soon as it opens. Ready for the biggest reality check? You’ll launch, open, wait. And here come the tumbleweeds. Nobody is waiting for you to go live.

What’s the best way to launch my web-to-print business?

As soon as you kick off your project, factor in a complete marketing acquisition plan and see to its execution. Make sure the procedure takes into account your customers’ behaviors and that it applies all channels currently available, both offline and online: SEO, web marketing, social selling, events, phone call, direct marketing… All acquisition channels should be benchmarked in terms of acquisition volume, acquisition cost, and return on investment. Make it visible.

And please, don’t neglect your existing customers. Be aware that many of your current offline customers are probably already purchasing on the web, most likely from your online competitors. You previously acquired them offline, now’s the time to convert them online. So, please make sure your marketing strategy also includes a how-to upsell the new service to your existing customer base (reduce that churn rate!) While we’re at it, make sure this ties in with Pitfall #2, on eliminating silos in your sales strategy.

Pitfall #6: Time-to-market doesn’t matter.

Au contraire. The COVID-crisis accelerated the shift from the traditional purchase cycle to e-commerce, both in B2C as in B2B. People need info and pricing, but salespeople are still confined to their home office. If you’re starting up an online printing platform to go live in twelve to twenty months, you'll miss the boat.

Now is not the time to dwell; now is the time to act now. Your customers’ behavior is changing; they're in dire need and demand for new digital services and new sales cycles in both the offline and online worlds. If you don't have a short-term answer, your customers will not give you the long-term light of the day.

And don't think of replacing churn customers with new ones. I doubt your company will have the proper acquisition tools.

What is the best way to market my web-to-print?

Do the right thing. Choose to reduce your time-to-market to the minimum, but don't opt-out of the long-term mindset. Be as pragmatic as possible to land that first offer asap. Don’t just contemplate your web-to-print project from a technical perspective, reconsider a tabula rasa if you must. Consider renowned solutions you can assemble thanks to ready-to-use connectors.

Pitfall #7: Scaling? No, thank you, none for me.

You know what, you’re right: your success may just be your demise. I’ve seen it many times. Companies that launch a quick-and-dirty storefront, and just as their sales activity picks up, they discover they have **so many workflow bottlenecks that scaling is made impossible. **

Believe me; it happens more than you think – see pitfall #1. It applies to mishaps in technology, branding, or even production bandwidth. It will kill your online printing project and disgust customers or employees equally.

How can you scale with a web-to-print e-commerce?

Be optimistic, think big. I don’t mean you should splurge on a purchase or hiring spree. Focus on a scalable architecture, on growth minus new bottlenecks. Draft and craft your order workflows, your prepress system, your customer service with your eyes on the 1-million-euro revenue prize. Opt for solutions and hosting arrangements that can speed up your activity, not slow them down. Build something elastic and flexible.

Pitfall #8: Online customization isn’t for B2B.

Are you targeting large corporations or resellers? Think that online editing is not an exciting feature for them? Think again.

Granted, online customization of templates is mostly used for families and SME's. But corporations or franchise networks are also looking into such solutions to protect brand consistency, generate new revenues, and ease the customization, translation, or ordering processes of marketing material. Online editing is the only right way to help your customers reduce the time they lost in processing orders of marketing material.

Are you sure you want to miss out on low-hanging fruit?

How can I service my B2B customers with web-to-print?

Familiarize yourself with your current and future customers’ needs and contemplate how you can help them optimize and improve their processes. Do they need better control over their brand consistency or decentralized ordering processes? Consider offering online customization as a smart feature. My two cents? Design your order flow architecture so it can manage upload and print processes in parallel with online design workflows.

Pitfall #9: Avoid the “templatageddon”.

Providing the online customization feature of generic or branded templates will attract customers by solving brand consistency issues in large corporations. But if not appropriately designed, depending on your platform’s big picture or your different user categories, it will prove to be your worst nightmare.

Users will spend hours on your online editor creating nice designs on bad interfaces, and your prepress department will get lost in translation trying to print them correctly. Your customers won’t understand, I assure you. They’ll be angry or disappointed at best.

“Great idea, poor execution” is that really the kind of review you want?

What’s the smart way to use Smart Templates?

If your customers need online editing features, build a smart solution that works for every user. Depending on role and skills, the layout of the editor must either display or hide specific toolbars or features, just to create a seamless workflow and generate ready-for-print output files. Time is money. If the smart templating workflow you've built is entirely automated, it will help you become more competitive. Rest assured, it will reduce your production time and increase your margin, as I explained it in a webinar for the VIGC in Belgium. Trust me; if your online editing workflow is smart and automated, you’ll not only scale up your platform, you’ll create loyalty among your customers.

Pitfall #10: Why yes. One size does fit all.

There are multiple ways to sell print online: from greeting cards and calendars with cute kittens to the online design of POS signage or complex corporate packaging. The possibilities are (almost) endless.

The customers’ needs vary enormously depending on their prepress expertise, ordering volume, whether they are a reseller or a direct consumer. Many printers that start an online printing platform project think that a unique storefront will be all it takes to serve different customer categories.

I hate to burst your bubble, but what a mistake to make. You don’t design a website for families the same way as you would for SMEs, corporations, or advertising agencies.

The B2C UX is utterly different from a B2B one; they even use different devices to place orders. A consumer will build a photo album on his smartphone; this is where (s)he hosts and stores all the pictures. A marketing assistant or a reseller, however, will place orders from a good iMac, using Adobe™ Photoshop® or InDesign® to prepare the files.

How can I tailor my web-to-print setup for my e-commerce goal?

Once again, start from the customers you’re targeting, build multiple segments and for every one of them, imagine serving them with the best experience possible. Conduct customer interviews, understand their requirements, ask them what they appreciate and hate on your competitors’ websites, and try to envision how their activities will evolve. Empathy will help you find accurate solutions to their needs, on a One-To-Few perspective, instead of offering them a run-in-the-mill unflavored One-To-All platform. As for UX, build one interface layout per persona, so your editing workflow will be perfectly adapted to every user’s skills and requirements. Mind you; you will have to choose a web-to-print software that is capable of providing multi-layout rendering depending on customer categories.

Pitfall #11: All I need is a castle on an island.

Many e-commerce storefronts look like a monolithic stand-alone system, working in autonomy, totally isolated from external systems. This can be the result of the choice of a closed off-the-shelf technology or the consequence of poor technological decision making in the development process.

In the end, you’ll end up with a single platform that might be able to get and process orders but is unable to interact with other web services, let alone adjust to specific customers’ requirements.

My problem? E-business is not a mere web matter. More and more B2C are placed on mobile applications or Amazon. In B2B, corporations are asking for connections with their DAM & ERP so that their purchasers can ask for quotes or follow up order production directly from their internal software.

**Cloud Printing platforms are multiplying and joining a network of fulfillers – why pass on the opportunity to increase your order flow? **And what about the resellers who want their online design tools to work the same way as the prepress software? With a closed e-commerce platform, you will be limited to one unique order input channel, with a single interface that will be too complex for everyday users, and too simple for “power users”.

What is my e-commerce bigger picture?

Your e-commerce architecture should be smart, open, and flexible. It must be capable of interacting with external systems securely. That means that it must be built on API or web services and must provide a vast library of plugins and extensions. This way, you’ll be able to design an intelligent storefront and back office with almost "no coding." All you need are plugging modules that are designed to work together openly and reliably. This will grant you the future flexibility to change any part of your architecture if and when it no longer meets your requirements, without having to replace the entire system. Avoid the monolith approach; think about your platform like a buildup of Lego™ blocks.
And I can’t stress this enough. When it comes to interfaces, avoid the "one size fits all syndrome": you're serving different personas with different skills. Choose a technology that will enable you to build specific views and toolbars for every user category.

Pitfall #12: Think out-of-the(print)box.

When talking to marketing or purchasing departments of large corporations, printers often limit their offer to print only.

Why? Because it’s their core business they know and trust, it’s their comfort zone or their output technology can only manage print output. Again with the missing out on low-hanging fruit.

Marketing departments in large companies or SMEs, or franchisees' affiliates are in demand of global solutions. **Offline, online, print, digital, social. Bref, multichannel. **

What’s is the best e-commerce setup?

I think you know where I’m going with this. Broaden your horizon the smart way. E-commerce is more than expanding your technology set. It’s about adjusting to a new, all-inclusive mindset. The technology awaits for you to make the most of it.


Fish where the fishes are, with the right fishing rod.

Keep this mantra in mind when dodging fishy deathtraps. Broaden your horizon the smart way. Identify the customers' segments you want to focus on, know their needs, list the features that will solve their problems, and make their daily activity more comfortable. And build a web-to-print platform that can match these requirements, in a short period, with a scalable and flexible architecture. It will increase your revenue and improve your customers’ business scope.

Now go fish!

Guest Blog,


Ludovic Martin

Jul 16, 2020

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