Is there still a growth opportunity in selling print online?

Automation is the key to making online print sales profitable.

Canon professionals searching is there still a growth opportunity in selling print online?


Most print businesses would recognise the importance today of an online presence, at least to act as a shop window to prospective customers. But in the ecommerce age there’s potentially much more to be gained from an online business model as a means to pull in new work, fill excess production capacity and level out peaks and troughs in production schedules – all while minimising cost of sales and administrative overheads. A strong online offering could even help to expand your customer base beyond the locality, to other regions and even countries.

The appetite from customers to buy print online is certainly strong. Businesses and individuals appreciate the simplicity of comparing products, services and prices online. And they like the convenience of submitting files via an intuitive web interface, and the immediacy of delivery from online providers.

But developing a successful online strategy for your print business is not as straightforward as plugging in a web-to-print tool and watching the orders flood in. The true online market is a competitive one, dominated by a few well-known very large international players and some smaller, national providers.

Alongside highly efficient, ultra-high-volume print factories, online print buyers can also order via online portals which have no printing capabilities themselves but fulfil their orders via networks of local commercial printers.

So, against this competitive backdrop, is it still worth investing in your online selling strategy? The answer is a clear ‘yes’ – to remove barriers for existing customers and prospects, to increase your visibility and attract new business, and to streamline the processes involved in accepting and on-boarding jobs.

But, to reap the full potential benefits of online selling, it’s vital to think beyond the web-to-print interface. You need to consider how to optimise your whole production set-up to provide you with the flexibility to handle an increased inflow of individual jobs, typically involving very short runs, lightning-fast turnaround and, increasingly, personalisation.

Bear in mind also that the additional price transparency that comes from online selling demands ultra-efficient processes to deliver a healthy margin on lower priced products. And you’re likely to have to invest in digital marketing such as SEO, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and social media advertising to be easily discovered by online buyers outside your existing customer base.

Work professional looking for opportunities to sell print online.


The reality of the online business model is that it is likely to drive more volume, but of smaller jobs, from a wider spread of customers, most with same or next-day delivery expectations. Current economic instability in the wake of the COVID pandemic, supply chain pressures and conflict is magnifying the established trend towards shorter print runs. Businesses are seeking to reduce costs by minimising their stockholding of printed materials and embracing print-on-demand, with the added motivations of waste reduction and improved sustainability.

This favours digital production over offset, but the more transactional the relationship, the less room for error. That requires a laser focus on productivity, efficiency and reliability, which calls for a review of your established ways of working. A ‘digital-first’ business demands a high level of workflow automation to remove all bottlenecks in the end-to-end process, from receipt of file to dispatch of finished goods – all without compromising product quality.

Already firmly established in book and transactional document printing, automated manufacturing serves to make production more efficient, eliminate waste and errors, and minimise operator interventions. A fully automated workflow reduces costs at every stage of the process, from labour, to energy, to consumables, and maximises the margin on every unit of production. In a market characterised by labour shortages and rising recruitment and retention costs, it offers distinct benefits, and there are major plusses for environmental performance too.

Work professionals looking for opportunities to sell print online.

Some of the online printers that dominate the market have blended offset/digital production; others are mainly digital. Full workflow integration can embrace the whole spectrum of press technologies, as in the case of Canon customer Kampert Nauta, a leading commercial printer in the Netherlands with a strong online business. The company’s automated print job management system determines whether a job is printed on offset, toner or inkjet, based on the run length, volume, application and media type. Importantly, customers can’t tell the difference between the quality produced by the different systems.

There’s no doubt that digital printing capability is mission-critical if you want the productivity and resilience for highly automated production – and it’s pretty much essential if your proposition includes personalisation. For any print business looking to capitalise on online sales to drive growth, investment in a flexible digital press with high uptime is important, especially if you’re thinking of adding extra shifts to boost your capacity to handle volume growth. Your precise mix of production technologies will be determined by a range of factors, from application, to run length, to media choice, to volume. But profitability will ultimately hinge on seamless end-to-end automation, from file intake to delivery and every step in between.

Work professional looking for opportunities to sell print online.


Shifting some or all of your business online can deliver commercial rewards but, as most brands have discovered in the post-pandemic era, it comes with substantial challenges to optimise processes and ensure customer satisfaction.

If developing your online business is part of your strategy, Canon can help. We already work closely with many well-established online printers worldwide and can share our expertise to inform your investment decisions, optimise your workflows, integrate your processes and drive production efficiencies to turn your online orders into sustainable bottom line growth.

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  • To find out more about how we can support you in implementing an online business model, talk to a member of the team.