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Beyond Email: Re-envisioning the Print-Buying Process

There’s nothing like a crisis to highlight weaknesses. The current economic and health crisis is prompting a reassessment of nearly every business practice, including print-buying. 

The printing industry historically has been responsive to changes in the technology of printing, but when it comes to handling orders, it’s stuck to traditional, low-tech manual processes. Many print buyers accept and play a role in these inefficient processes.

However, an article posted April 22 by the print industry website whattheythink.com suggests the COVID-19 crisis may prompt overdue changes. 

The article, “Email is not an online print ordering solution” by Jennifer Matt, highlights a key weakness: Buying print is inconvenient, time-consuming, and often needlessly difficult. She might have added that it’s often not as cost-effective as possible either.

The primary reason print-buying can be frustrating is that vendors and print buyers rely on old methods, such as over-reliance on personal relationships, email and phone communication, spreadsheets to track projects, and general procurement systems not built for handling print.

The WTT article zeroes in on the communication issue, pointing out that, on any given project, there’s a back-and-forth email chain between buyer and vendor of dozens to as many as 100 emails that become confusing and repetitive because steps in the process aren’t well-documented. This is a recipe for miscommunication, errors, and inefficiency.

The article suggests that efficiency will take on new importance as print clients begin emerging from the economic crisis with thinner staff and budgets. Some may even turn away from print entirely if they conclude it’s more hassle than it’s worth.

The article suggests streamlining the printing process and reducing repetitive emails by listing the steps of each project, following them consistently, and documenting progress. 

That’s a good starting point. Walkthrough your process—whether you’re a buyer or supplier, document the steps, look for inefficiencies, and identify the pain points. Look for ways to reduce complexity and cost.

Take the opportunity to ask yourself whether an improved way of doing things might be your answer.  Streamlining an outdated email- and the spreadsheet-based process can only take you so far.

There are a variety of more efficient solutions for print procurement. For instance, the right print management software (that’s purpose-built for print buying) makes a world of difference for buyers and vendors. To choose what’s best for you, compare your list of steps and pain points with the product features. 

Even a broker or BPO (business process outsourcers) can greatly benefit.  After all, a broker is a printing buyer for its clients.  The right solution can increase profits for a broker while saving money for the broker’s clients.  It can bring near-instant estimates, improve control, speed communication, and automate the ordering through the delivery process.  

The current economic crisis will be a game-changer for many businesses. Taking a hard look at your print-buying process is one step toward ensuring you’re still in the game when the crisis eases.