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Improving Customer Experience for Personalized Products

Every year, new technology surprises us with many innovations that would have been straight out of a sci-fi movie a few decades ago. Despite all our progress, scientists still haven’t managed to figure out the whole time travel thing. For now, the old-fashioned photograph remains the next best thing. Each photo is a fragment of a moment in time that helps us revisit our favorite memories. While the same technological advances now enable us to carry thousands of photos in our pockets today, the special significance of photos prevents many of us from digitizing completely. One only needs to look at how popular photo products are in the printing industry to confirm that, sometimes, it’s just nice to hold a photograph.

But photographs are not only mementos; they are also one of the most common decorations you’ll see in a home. If you move into a new home, of course you’re going to want to decorate those barren walls. Naturally, you end up in a shop that specializes in wall decorations, ordering custom canvases or prints.

Perhaps you’re planning a wedding and want to add a personal touch with photos on your invitation cards for your guests. Or maybe you want a more tangible replacement for your phone’s screen in the form of a custom photobook – one of the most popular photo products today. Having friends huddle around your tiny phone screen just isn’t the same as turning through the pages of a high-quality printed photobook to highlight all of the major events from the past year. The difference is, you get to be proud of designing such a beautiful product yourself. Similarly, a useful gift with a personal touch to it is always welcomed by friends and loved ones. Customized mugs, calendars, or phone cases with a photo of the grandkids printed on them will always be received well.

All of these types of personalized items are just a few common examples of photo print products. Unlike business printing products, they are mostly ordered by B2C customers to celebrate some special occasion. In the past, people needed to get into their car and drive out to a nearby brick and mortar shop to order them, but now the proliferation of web-to-print technology has made it easier than ever to order these kinds of products right from your laptop or even a mobile device. Many printing companies are rushing to adopt web-to-print technologies for their B2C customers so they can get ahead of the trend. Let’s discuss some of the important aspects of web-to-print applications that are relevant to photo products.

Intuitive User Interfaces with Support for Mobile Devices

Photo products are primarily ordered by everyday B2C consumers, so the technology behind the process needs to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible. Not all end users are tech-savvy people, yet they still need to be able to order photo products on a web-to-print site. When building the W2P-enabled site, you cannot expect your users to do some sort of training on how to use your technology before actually creating the order. Shopping is a leisure activity and not something anyone wants to put excessive work or time into. If the W2P application is too confusing for your customers, then they will just give up and move on to the next site.

While the process does need to be user-friendly overall, some special consideration needs to be paid to making sure that your web-to-print application is optimized for mobile platforms. Five years ago, people mostly used dedicated digital cameras and copied the photos to their home computers. Now, so many photos are taken with smartphones that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with transferring them anywhere else. They either stay on the smartphones or are automatically uploaded to cloud storage accounts linked to them.

With this in mind, B2C web-to-print applications must support mobile platforms to allow people to design products on the devices where the photos are stored. If there is no mobile support, then perhaps a customer will give up at the mere thought of going through the work to transfer their photos onto a computer. Also, having support for both mobile and desktop platforms will give your online shop better reach and an edge over competitors that don’t have this feature.

The Variable Nature of Photo Products

As noted by the different types of products mentioned earlier, the nature of photo print products varies widely. Some of them may be ordered based on a single photo and created by end-users from scratch, while others rely on very complex design templates. From the web-to-print perspective, all products can be divided into two large categories: physical products where the design is printed on a curved surface and paper printed products.

Personalized mugs, pillows, blankets, phone cases, water bottles, and several other items fall under the first category. Photobooks, personalized cards, calendars, and other paper products mostly rely on predesigned templates and can be included in the second category. Now, let’s discuss how different aspects of a web-to-print solution relate to these two different categories of photo products.

Photo products printed on paper

When photo products are printed on paper rather than a physical object, they typical rely heavily on support for predesigned templates. While it’s true that online editors have become more and more advanced over time, they are still not robust enough to replace desktop graphics software and publishing systems. All of the graphics-heavy designs for photobooks, cards, calendars, and other products still must be created in desktop applications and then published as templates on the web-to-print site.

These templates are the key to giving customers a stress-free experience. Users get the majority of the design from a template, and then they can personalize it by adding their own photos and text blocks, by changing the layout or some colors, and by moving design elements around on the page. That is the maximum of what can be expected from an average customer, so the templates have to be well designed and should provide visual aids for customers that explain how they can personalize them.

Another important aspect is the template format. A web-to-print system will provide the owner with the best value if it doesn’t require any manual processing of templates or converting them to some internal format. Both of these require a lot of work when one of the major benefits of W2P is supposed to be saving time. There can also be quite a learning curve for those internal formats.

If a solution allows for loading files that were saved in a desktop graphics program, then that solution will be the best option. Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular graphics programs on the market and every print shop has someone well versed in the program, but only a few web-to-print solutions can support its file format. Customer’s Canvas is among those select few.

Multipage support is yet another crucial point on what printers should be looking for in a web-to-print solution that can handle all types of printed photo products. Support for multipage products is not just about adding the ability to switch between pages of a product in the editor. The web-to-print technology must utilize a flexible API that would allow the host site to “control” the design process.

End-users may want to change the color theme of a photo book, add or delete pages, change page layouts or designs, rearrange photos between pages, or some other design change. All of these operations have to be carried out in the web-to-print editor and it should be advanced enough to allow the website logic to control them.

Photobooks may contain tens or even hundreds of pages, so the web-to-print editor’s back end needs to be optimized to process such a large amount of graphics. These photos and graphics add up quickly, and the size of a book can be up to hundreds of megabytes or even a gigabyte. Handling such volumes of data requires special techniques from the web-to-print technology, and some solutions may be lacking in this department. Fortunately, Customer’s Canvas implements all of these functionalities behind the scenes.

Physical photo products

Although a 3D surface seems like it might complicate things a bit, physical photo products actually have much simpler designs than printed photo products. But this 3D component does present a different element to these products that must be considered. When the user designs a flat version of the product in the web browser, it can be difficult to imagine what it will look like after being fulfilled.

To meet customer expectations and ensure that they get the same product they imagined online in the mail, the web-to-print system must support 3D product previews. Once the product has been personalized, the user should be able to see it at different angles and switch back to the editor if corrections are necessary.

One other unique aspect that applies to physical products is how various parameters can make the products look differently depending on what the user selects on the site. For example, the user can choose different sizes and colors when designing a mug, or they can choose between different models when designing a phone case. The web-to-print technology has to be flexible enough to support all of these product variations and reflect them in the design process.

If customers can see a lifelike approximation of what their final product will look like in real-time, chances are they will be more comfortable with the outcome and more likely to add it to their cart.

Tight Integration with E-commerce and Inventory Systems

Photo products are a crossroads of the physical and printed worlds, and thus present some unique challenges for a print shop to implement. When a customer orders business printing products, the printer doesn’t have to worry about availability as long as they have paper, ink, and the printing equipment. However, when an order is placed for a mug with a specific color and a personalized design printed on it, the mug first needs to be ordered by the printer from a distributor.

This is not a job that you want to leave vulnerable to human error. To avoid stocking issues and unhappy customers, a web-to-print site should be integrated with an inventory system that allows the user to select a specific product with specific parameters based on inventory data. The web-to-print technology should pull the inventory data and make products (e.g., mugs) and the options available for those products (e.g., red) selectable or unavailable based on that data. For example, if the printing company runs out of red mugs, the web-to-print module shouldn’t allow users to choose the red color option when ordering them.

Social Networks and More Creativity Options

We discussed earlier how support for mobile devices in web-to-print applications is important for ordering photo products due to the majority of customers storing their photos there. Social networks are another storage solution for many customers, where they accumulate thousands of photos between their several online accounts. Printers are seeing a steady trend of clients, especially millennials, wanting to place orders based on photos loaded from social media platforms. To make the most of this trend, web-to-print applications need to provide seamless access to photos from Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks.

Another feature that web-to-print applications should be equipped with is support for photo effects. Photo products are supposed to have a personal touch to them and be creative, so clients often want to apply photo filters to achieve this. Sepia and other Instagram effects have become standard-de-facto for web-to-print applications to facilitate this demand. Customers also like to add embellishments to their designs, such as photo frames and other design elements, and will search for these options in the web-to-print editor.

This can be a challenge for the printer, as they will need to have a library of stock design elements for various occasions in addition to their library of stock templates. However, compiling these over time is not as difficult as it appears, and will be well worth it when customers are looking for an online shop that offers the maximum amount of customizability for their photo products.

Conclusion

With the growing popularity of personalized photo products, web-to-print is the perfect tool that allows printers to take advantage of this trend while providing an enjoyable online shopping experience for their customers. A web-to-print site with an intuitive user interface will make the process easy for customers as well as increase the chances of conversions. The site should be just as easy to use on mobile platforms as it is on desktop computers to accommodate the large amount of photos that users store on their phones. Furthermore, a web-to-print system needs to be built having both types of photo products in mind.

Systems that don’t require manual processing of templates and support file formats from programs like Photoshop will be the right choice for managing the templates of printed photo products. Systems that support 3D previews are necessary for physical photo products, which also require tight integration between e-commerce and inventory systems to avoid stocking problems.

Finally, users should be able to upload photos from their social media accounts to the online editor, as well as have the ability to apply creative filters similar to what they would find on Instagram. Taking all of the above into consideration when shopping for a web-to-print solution that will be used for ordering photo products online will ensure that any printer has the tools to outshine the competition in this growing market.