Which W2P solution is the best?
We get a lot of questions regarding B2B W2P Proprietary (Boxed) Storefronts. There are some companies that seem to always make it into the discussion, companies like: Pressero (Aleyant), CatFish (Infigo), PageDNA, PrintSites, DSF (EFI).
There are literally hundreds of boxed choices out there, but which one is right for you? To answer this question, you first have to know your business.
Recently we were asked if Pressero was the right fit, and “Will it meet my needs?” My response is always the same “What do you need the software to do?”
There are many factors that will determine the right solution for your company. Please first digest the reality that a B2B W2P solution is far more difficult and expensive than a standard B2C solution. Clients that will purchase from you are looking for a top notch B2C experience in a B2B platform. You must decide what you will offer your clients, what will be a standard package, and what will need custom development.
Before we explore B2B W2P, we would be remise if we did not first mention the “brain and heart” of ALL printing companies, and this is the MIS platform. If your MIS is currently not meeting your companies needs, you will be better served directing your time and resources towards the MIS before adding a W2P solution. If the MIS is not open, meaning that it does not play well with others, then you are essentially handcuffed out of the gate. Adding a W2P solution to a closed MIS will result in lost profits.
This article does not promote one solution over another. We do not sell B2B W2P solutions, but we do work with a lot of them, serving as middle ware in post processing the print files through production. Our core platform Switch is used to fully automate everything behind the scenes after the order is placed and print files arrive at the printing plant.
Here are some things to consider when you start looking for your B2B W2P solution
- What is your budget?
- Most viable solutions start at 50k, and have no upper limit
- Most printers will spend from 80k – 200k on a B2B W2P solution to start
- SaaS or Self Hosted?
- Transaction fees per order or per download?
- Monthly and or yearly fees for a SaaS model?
- Do you have the in-house IT Support?
- Are you looking for one software to provide multiple solutions?
- Are you building a true technology stack, or simply looking for a “Boxed” solution?
- Are you hoping to replace your MIS and W2P with the same solution?
- Understand that W2P has frequent and on going costs. You will never finish this project.
- How much custom programming are you willing to do?
- Open Source or Proprietary?
- How will you post process the printing files?
- How do you accurately bill to the customers unique requirements?
Features to look for
- Well documented API
- Multi-Tier Approval
- Variable Data Creation tools that are easy to use and maintain
- Product types like:
- Custom kitting
- Combo variable and static products
- Downloadable products (Variable and Static)
- Data driven products
- Mail list driven (ability to map column data)
- Support for multiple data feeds to a single product
- Easy to deploy and maintain customer facing data sources
- Bulk upload and update products
- Flexible and easy skinning (branding) of the site
- Fast Storefront deployments
- Well developed reporting features
- Storefront easily integrates with your MIS, Production floor, and Shipping
- Split shipments
- Partial shipments
- Does it offer budgets, if so, how are the budgets applied and managed?
Things that always KILL a seemingly GOOD B2B W2P solution
- Shopping cart lacks modern B2C features
- Billing is basic or non-existent
- Reporting is not easily customizable for each client
- Variable Data creation tools and processes are hard to use and require a programming background
- Shipping is not bidirectional between the MIS and the Storefront
- Warehousing and Inventory Management are basic, and or will not connect to MIS or other solutions
Look out for the BIG “Gotcha”
One solution promises to do everything — the biggest mistake a printer will make is to purchase a suite of products that claim to do everything.
Understand the ever changing printing market
Do not think of it as solely a printing market, but understand that the printing market is rapidly becoming a true technology market. The printer is not actually selling printing, in fact you are selling the technology that will attract printing clients.
Open Source or a Proprietary (Boxed) Solution?
This is really the main question that most printers should be asking.
The boxed (proprietary) solutions are very attractive to most mid-sized printers.
The boxed solution offers to cure what ails you. It promises to have the best shopping experience the best backend administration, the best job tracking, reporting, variable data, and the list goes on and on.
Having spent over 30 years in high-end commercial sheet feed and web printing, and growing up in the W2P era, I can tell you through personal experience that ALL boxed solutions will indeed fall short of a printers expectations. This usually happens sooner than later.
Why does the proprietary solution disappoint most printers? It usually stems from a lack of knowledge that a printer has in regards to what a good B2B solution should offer and deliver. They do not fully understand what features are truly needed in a good B2B solution. What features are practical and which make for a good software demo. The proprietary solutions very often are hard to manage in key areas like, customizing the look and feel to meet a customers branding, lack of good reporting, having no integrated billing, the variable data creation tools are time consuming and require some programming knowledge, the API is underdeveloped and not well supported.
Most proprietary software providers do not want to take on custom programming to add custom features that are outside of their planned roadmap or current sprint. This leaves the printer handcuffed to the vendor, and usually prompts the printer to start looking for a “better” proprietary solution.
Risk. You will potentially assume more risk with an open source solution. All software development carries with it some risk, and you have to assume that risk is part of the deal going in. Open source solutions tend to be more expensive in the long run, but usually yield a far higher ROI and customer satisfaction.
The concept with open source is that you can download and use the software for free, or at a very small fee. It is open, meaning that you get the full source code of the software, and have the right to manipulate the code.
A good viable open source software is supported by a community of developers that listen and develop around the input they receive from their users. Most have an active “Market Place”, a place that users can go to purchase additional functionality for the base open source code. The software will regularly be updated and enhanced. There is usually a strong and active users group with members willing to help other members. The software will be very well documented.
The main benefit of choosing open source over proprietary is the ability to pick the “Best In Class” pieces for your emerging technology stack. This means that you take the open source shopping cart, add to it a best in class variable data tool, the best in shipping/warehouse, reporting, product types, etc…
It is much easier to replace a piece of your technology stack rather than replacing the entire stack. Another main benefit is the ability to build what you really need, i.e. what the market is demanding from a B2B solution.
Known Pitfalls of Development
Creating everything from scratch. There are companies out there that have enough resources available to create a unique, custom, enterprise level, best in class solution for themselves, but these companies are not the norm, and in fact are the exception. Most well intended attempts at scratch development will usually end in defeat, either through bad planning or the lack of ability to maintain the software at an acceptable level over the course of time. If you feel like you need a custom solution, then you might consider starting with an open source solution and doing the development on top of that.
Only you will know the right solution for your company.
The goal is to be as educated as possible concerning the industry, the benefits and limitations associated with both the open source and proprietary solutions. Having a solid company roadmap and direction on where you see your position in the B2B market. Being able to successfully compete against your competition in such a way to separate yourself through innovative technology offerings will go a long way to producing satisfied and loyal clients.