Some industries have shifted away from paper and printing services in general. Once the printing business loses such an avenue, it's likely not to return, at least not in force. That means it may be time for leaders of print service providers to focus hard on the sectors that are still interested in mass amounts of printed forms instead of switching to digital methods. Identifying and quantifying the opportunities in these paper-first segments shows there are a few product categories where print has not yet fallen to niche status.
Consumers write checks – lots of them
In the face of new ways to pay, many American consumers are still writing checks at retail stores, according to The Wall Street Journal. The source explained that while check-writing isn't a habit with millennials (with many 20-somethings not even knowing they can write checks while shopping) the numbers of those still using pen-and-paper payments are significant.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Reserve researched checking habits and found Americans wrote 17.3 billion of them in 2015. The rate of check use fell 4.4 percent between 2012 and 2015, but it was the first tri-annual period since the survey began in 2000 that showed a smaller decline than the previous three years.
When it comes to accepting checks as payments, retailers still do it, even in the face of a digital-first marketplace. The news provider explained that these stores have found a kind of middle ground, working with automatic scanners instead of having employees file the checks away. Sometimes, the scanning processes don't even require the shopper to fill out and hand over the check.
It appears that the billions of checks flowing through the retail environment right now are used by a small slice of the shopping population. Costco's Bob Nelson told The Wall Street Journal that his organization doesn't think much about its approach to accepting checks because there aren't many customers still using them.
A lesson for printers
Checks are supportive of shoppers' desire for security when they buy. The Wall Street Journal noted that check writers praise the feeling of security and fiscal control that comes with checks. Despite the fact that there may not even be any security advantages, the perception is powerful. After all, it has kept billions of checks in use, when they are slower to use than chip-based credit cards or payment apps.
There is a lesson in this for printers, and it may go well beyond checks. While these items are decreasing in their use, and could potentially become a much weaker market in the next few years, their resilience and old-time appeal may apply to other type of products. The printing industry can appeal to a desire for security or the kind of controlled feeling that comes with being analog in a digital world. Watching paper books hold their own against e-books and seeing the vinyl record comeback can inspire belief in this marketing tactic.
B2B space loves checking
In the end, there may be another teachable moment in the checking space for printers. Namely, it's not always the most visible use of a product that's driving real demand. American Banker recently spotlighted the push and pull between paper and digital finance and found that business-to-business transactions are hugely check-based. While people standing in grocery store lines writing checks are a visual manifestation of this payment method's continued influence, it is in extremely frequent use when companies deal with one another.
The news provider quoted U.S. Bank Corporate Payment Systems President Jeff Jones, who stated that nearly half of B2B transactions involve paper checks. The source explained that companies are in the habit of using cash and checks and, despite financial institutions' efforts to make them change their ways, those traditional processes still hold sway.
Whether it's the amazing numbers still being generated by a seemingly-dead payment method, the comfort that comes with paper product use or the less visible world of B2B checking's continued presence, the checking world has a takeaway for just about any member of the printing industry. These data points could indicate interesting future directions for printers.