Digital technologies are causing constant and consistent changes in how businesses today are run. The various electronic tools and processes adopted by organizations have provided us with faster, more efficient ways to communicate and conduct work and, in turn, have allowed us to significantly enhance our quality of service. And while the advantages of using automation technology in the business environment can be realized across markets, they are especially prevalent in the printing industry.

The truth is, using digital innovations to streamline workflow and operations isn't just an added bonus for print distributors – it's a necessity, because a lack of automation in printing can kill a business – especially for organizations that are targeting specific clients.

The evolution of retail and on-demand print
One of the sectors that is still heavily reliant on print media and materials is the retail industry. WhatTheyThink recently reported that at Durst Imaging's Retail 2020 conference at The SGIA Expo last fall in Florida there were multiple presentations discussing what retailers today look for in print service companies. One of the points made is that, although some retail companies can be extremely demanding of print providers and have high expectations that seem difficult for the organization to meet, it is because, put simply, they can be. They are important customers for printing companies and, therefore, have the right to be disruptive. Furthermore, it is important for print distributors to realize that if they want to work with retailers, it is critical that they first understand what the biggest challenges for these buyers is: speed to market. 

The source explained that printed materials have a long production line to go through – from design to print to installation at various locations. And the timeframe available to do all of this in is growing increasingly small. 

"Because of social media, we've thrown out the marketing calendars that most big companies used to have," said Martine Padilla, a woman who has worked on both the retail and print sides of business, according to WhatThe​yThink. "Remember marketing calendars? Once upon a time, a company knew what its marketing plan was going to – generally – in advance for all four quarters of the year. Those days are decidedly gone."

Today, retail marketing is all about responding to what is happening in online in real time, such as what a brand's customers are posting and what strategies its competitors are using, the source said. Essentially, anything can change in the blink of an eye, keeping retailers and, in turn, their printing providers on their toes. A company can have an ad all ready to go and send it to the printer, only at the last minute to realize a change in a competitor's campaign or other unexpected disruption means you need to start over. Therefore, that the printing partner needs to be able to adapt to last-minute adjustments and operate on a platform that allows constant communication and collaboration.

One of the most important points Padilla makes is that a print service provider should offer high-quality products, on-time delivery and fair pricing. When it comes to cost, many retailers don't mind paying on the higher side – as long as the price is consistent, the source indicated. 

How printing services can improve retail business
Of course, most printing companies, like any businesses, understand that quality products and consistent service and pricing are expected of them. And while delivering these things may be enough to keep retail clients, it may not be enough to truly go above and beyond in impressing them. To ensure they are an exceptional printing company major retailers and other businesses want to work with, printers must focus on three factors: speed, flexibility and a willingness to say 'yes.'

Because the two biggest concerns plaguing retail companies today regarding printing services are speed to market and shipping costs, it is imperative for printing service providers to leverage tools and technologies that automate workflow and production and provide greater visibility and transparency into order and fulfillment operations. 

In a blog post for Intellective Solutions, Joe Rickard offered some insight on the similarities between retail and print businesses – and how the challenges and strategies used by retailers can also be used by print distributors. One piece of advice Rickard gave is that discounts can end up backfiring; sellers need to be careful that sales do not hurt profits in the long run, even if they are only offered for a short amount of time. This is why marketers should focus on creating promotional campaigns that emphasize the quality of produces and services, rather than a discounted price. 

The source also suggested that printing service providers, similar to retailers, should collaborate with partners to meet the needs and expectations of customers, and that the quicker the company transitions to a multichannel platform for delivery, the better off it'll be.