Six months in lockdown has given us plenty of time to reflect on the profound changes the pandemic has had - and will continue to make - on our industry.
Whilst we’re not out the woods yet and much more remains to be learnt, here are five important lessons that have stuck with me.
With official guidance on social distancing changing regularly and rules differing across regions of the country, delivering correct information in a way that everyone understands has been critical. You might even say, signage has never been so important to our health and safety. This is supported by a recent Roland DG study that showed that 40% of UK shoppers have shunned shops with unclear signage, and a huge 80% feel safer when clear signage is in place. The research gives a clear call to action for retailers of all kinds: to build trust with consumers and staff alike, clear and proper signage is essential. Consequently, print companies have become critical cogs in the economy. And this need for social distancing signage, is already playing an important part in our industry’s recovery.
The demand for social distancing signage has opened printing businesses up to whole new swathes of potential customers. The hospitality industry, for example, is ordering more from UK printers than ever before. Similarly, the public sector has invested heavily in clear signage, particularly in critical services like schools, hospitals and libraries. And with the consequences of pandemics now better understood, we should expect organisations across all verticals to keep a readily available and replenished stock of necessities like PPE. Whilst the spike in the demand for these products will fall, they are unlikely to be completely suppressed opening up channels to new markets.
If businesses can continue to prove good value for money and help instill trust among their consumers, this new breed of customer will be a long term feature for printers rather than a one-off.
In all industries, the businesses that fared the best during the deepest darkest parts of lockdown were those that adapted quickly. We saw this with restaurants that quickly pivoted to takeaway and fitness instructors that were first to provide virtual classes. Our sector was not an exception.
Companies that quickly increased or decreased production according to real-time demand were able to cut potential waste and/or increase revenues by meeting more orders. However, the savviest print business owners also knew how to walk the tightrope between over and under investing and not putting all their eggs into a basket where demand was temporary.
This diversity proved key. Companies with a broad range of products were more likely to weather the storm. Today’s printers, with the right equipment, are capable of offering a versatile range of printing services, such as temporary or permanent, outdoor or indoor, banners, point of sale, vehicle graphics, posters, stickers, window and floor graphics or heat transfers for apparel.
It will be the businesses that learnt that flexibility and diversity were key for the pandemic recovery that will be the best place in the future. Because there will be other external economic shocks, albeit not as extreme.
In fact, forward thinking decision makers will already be considering what future demand looks like - not just once the height of the pandemic is over - but after other long term factors that might influence demand.
One of the biggest winners from lockdown has been ecommerce companies. Even the largest and most prominent of them all, Amazon, managed to grow its customer base and upsell to existing customers. In fact, over 6.9 million consumers found new uses for the platform during lockdown, according to Amazon agency, Molzi.
For print businesses, ecommerce platforms provide a means to convert new customers as demand increases, but also to simply increase awareness and demonstrate the range of differentiated digital products available for customers.
Leadership teams that are not investing in ecommerce platforms are not only losing out now but are also damaging long-term prospects. The early adopters that bring in the right talent can create a skilled team that future-proof the business. There is simply no better time to start building out this offering.
However, it will not be the printers that get themselves online the fastest that will win the ecommerce war but rather those that keep investing resources into it and stay on top of important algorithm updates.
Excellent customer service pays dividends in the long run, irrespective of whether there’s a pandemic global or not. However, going the extra mile at a time when people are pulling together and need support will stay even longer in the memory.
There are great opportunities to go above and beyond fulfilling existing orders and highlight to current customers that you are a truly valued partner. Then you may spot opportunities to discuss your new services that they may not be aware of. While the budget might be a little tight at the moment, it will not always be the case.
This final lesson for me is a very valuable one. What we’ve been doing as an industry in the past has not been wrong and has certainly stood many of us in good stead. But there is always room to learn and improve.
Paul Willems, Director of Business Development and Product Management, EMEA at Roland DG
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