Web2Print: The Difference Between a Portal and a WebShop.


Web2Print: The Difference Between a Portal and a WebShop.

I once backed slowly out of the room while two hard-core techies argued over the “real” definition of the term, “Portal”. They weren’t debating the hardships of dealing with GLaDOS – they were literally arguing about what, exactly, constitutes a portal.

In the old days, a portal, when talking about websites, was a general information site that would refer users on to other websites. They were closely aligned to modern-day search engines – one could go so far as to argue that they were a definite predecessor, but I don’t want to see you guys backing slowly out of my blog, so I shall refrain.

But basically, portals used to be like a site that pointed you to other thematically-similar sites, until people like Google came along. Now, the term portal seems to have been repurposed, somewhat. It shouldn’t be surprising – portal technology itself has become repurposed, too.

As for myself, when dealing with my Web2Print clients, a portal is the specifically-customised landing page that my customers expect to see when logging into their personal Web2Print platform. Isn’t that just like a normal store front website, though?

No, it is not.

Allow me to elaborate!

WebShops and eCommerce and Store Fronts – oh my!

The majority of websites based on the eCommerce philosophy, which allow you to browse through a swathe of products, select your heart’s desire and purchase on a whim, could safely be called a webshop or a digital store front. You are likely all familiar with Amazon and its regional sites, Etsy and eBay – all classic examples of different business models, all based around eCommerce.

When talking about a Web2Print store front – as opposed to a Web2Print portal – however, a number of differences start appearing. Basically, a Web2Print store front (or webshop) is targeted exclusively at B2C end users. For some of my own clients, the first difference is therefore the amount of investment into search engine optimisation (SEO) activities. Unlike a Web2Print portal, the primary goal of a Web2Print store front is to entice as many customers as possible to amble onto the store front and stick around!

For a Web2Print store front, bounce rates are all-important, retention and conversion rates are gospel and keywords are the great totems worshipped by the site’s developers and marketers, alike. Get these right and customers will come flocking. Get them wrong and enjoy a barren wasteland of no transactions.

Generally, registration is not as important as the sale itself, for these sites. Often, guest logins are used, to ensure a customer is not unduly pestered to sign up. With the login, the customer will get to personalise various cosmetic points like their own time zone and the frequency with which they wish to receive marketing messages and newsletters. Nothing earth-shattering, because the business model here revolves around keeping things as simple as possible.

You can find literally thousands of templates on eCommerce-based Web2Print webshops. If you aren’t sure who your customers are going to be, it’s best to cater to as many of them as possible. And the more templates you have, generally, the more sales you should generate!

Thinking With Portals

A Web2Print portal is unlike a Web2Print store front because it is a customised platform developed as a result of a targeted clients’ requirements. Signed contracts, Service Licence Agreements (SLAs), proposals, maintenance subscriptions and Account Managers all play a part, here.

When you log into Amazon to buy a new pair of shoes or whatever, you are not greeted by a customised login with your company’s branding all over the product selections, with automatically-completed user details all nicely filled in for you. This is the difference between offering a portal and offering a store front. A log-in is essential, for starters, otherwise how can the portal display its custom offerings for your clients? End-user personalisation – on a per-client basis – is crucial to a successful Web2Print portal.

Generally, another major difference between the two sites is that you will tend to find fewer templates on a Web2Print portal. This isn’t because I hate my clients! It’s because corporate orders tend to be along specific lines – business cards must all be just so; letterheads must look like this; the company’s branding must be highlighted on this mug. Why would you want your brand identity diluted by lifting these template restrictions? You wouldn’t, unless you were hiding some personal enmity against your marketing manager… So, restricting the potential product offerings serves a legitimate purpose, as far as your end users are concerned.

Remember – the point of a Web2Print portal is not to admit the casual browser, uncertain as to their purchase. For your business clients, they will be coming with fixed purposes in mind and so, it is important not to clutter their view.

As I said earlier – when dealing with a business portal, it is important to have service contracts in place, so your customers know what to expect from you – and you, from them. After all, both Web2Print platforms and Web2Print store fronts share one thing in common: the onus is still on the user to ensure their print proofs are accurate, good-looking and correct. You should be in contact frequently with your end users, ensuring there are no hidden issues or other problems quietly brewing away in the background. Unlike with an eCommerce webshop, you still have to manage the account!

Remember the motivations of your B2B client: quality; design; convenience. If you can cater to all of these points while still maintaining reasonable prices, you should never lose this customer. You are solving business problems for them, not feeding an impulse-buy, as you would be with a store front website. You want to ensure the functional aspects are bug-free and cater to the rational purchase impulse associated with a business purchase.

A Word of Caution

While I have you, let me share some advice with you.

The field of B2C is highly competitive. Many go down the route of Web2Print, trying to start a print shop, without really considering the significant amount of marketing that will be required in order to make it a success. Unless your offering is highly unique, you may be doomed to fail before you even start. I wouldn’t recommend taking the plunge if you are new to all of this; get some experience with a standard digital storefront, first!

I would concentrate on existing B2B clients – studying how they could benefit from a portal and spending some time perfecting its user interface. Remember my blog which spoke about templates? Think about these aspects from the point of view of your users. For instance, do they have artwork? Will they only need minor changes and not a full-blown design team?

When giving advice on this subject, I always return to one of the least romantic aspects of our business: printing business cards. If you can simplify the process for ordering a business card, then you have a good chance of perfecting this workflow for the rest of the items you print. But business cards will be your bread and butter and if you can’t get it right for them, then you have deeper issues which need to be addressed.

Focus on the needs of your clients and you won’t be sorry!

Wrapping It Up With a Bow

Webshops are brilliant because if you’re looking for wedding invitations or a one-off order of brochures, you can browse through thousands until you’re satisfied, throw down your custom photos, say what you want to say and run that print job. Webshops are 100% aimed at individuals; B2C all the way.

Portals are also brilliant, because if you’re a corporate customer with a lot of repeat orders, like business cards or annual reports, or if you have constant requirements for large print orders at multiple locations, you don’t have to worry about setting up the look of the thing, you don’t have to worry about ensuring the content is correct – you just have to use the same thing you used last time, knowing it was all previously approved, so the branding will be correct and that you can cut short a lot of steps, like having to wait for a purchase order to be raised. Portals are entirely orientated around the business user – they are focussed on B2B users completely.

Regardless of which kind of Web2Print site interests you, however, you will still have to take into account your customer service levels. Your webshop customers can sometimes be difficult to deal with, often requiring re-orders for free and so forth. Your portal customers may sometimes raise technical issues or be displeased with print quality for high-volume orders. You are going to need to address these issues in line with your portal’s SLAs, your webshop’s terms and conditions and your own conscience. As mentioned in previous blogs, clearly-displayed Ts&Cs will help you with this, somewhat, but decent customer service will be a massive differentiator in this highly competitive marketplace.

Whether you’re bringing in as much traffic as possible or exclusively catering to rational business requirements, make sure your site design and business processes reflect the user stories of your target audience!