By Pedro Pereira, Business Solutions Magazine
Smartphones and tablets spur need for printing on the fly, boosting sales potential for the channel.
Despite some competition from stationary inkjet and laser printers, the wireless mobile printer market continues to thrive as workers become more mobile. And as uses for mobile printing multiply, they are creating new opportunities for VARs and integrators interested in expanding into a new business area. Before getting into mobile printers, however, VARs need to understand the opportunity, which breaks down into two primary categories typically referred to as “inside the four walls” and “outside the four walls.”
The inside opportunity revolves around warehouse, factory, and retail applications where there is the need to print shipping and receiving labels for packages, and — in the case of retail — receipts for purchased goods. The outside opportunity, on the other hand, centers on printing invoices, credit card payment receipts, and documentation showing proof of completed deliveries, both to consumers and businesses.
For VARs, says Marty Johnson, product marketing manager at Zebra Technologies, a vendor of bar code and label printing solutions, the greatest opportunity currently lies in the business-toconsumer space, where mobile printing adds efficiency, speed, and convenience. For instance, says Johnson, a washing machine repair technician can print a document showing that a customer paid on site for the technician’s work.
As another example, a delivery driver or service technician can swipe a credit card and print a receipt right in front of the customer, as opposed to running back to the truck to use an in-vehicle printer. This saves time and allows the customer not to lose sight of her card.
Paul Weslake, senior product manager for portable printers at Datamax-O’Neil, a vendor of mobile printing and bar code solutions, says VARs looking for mobile printing opportunities need not look much further than the SMB market. “There is still a significant amount of opportunity in helping smaller businesses using mobile printing. Many of these businesses are just realizing the benefits of improving their productivity and bottom line by having a mobile solution that helps reduce wasted activities and improves accuracy.”
Wireless Trend Benefits
Wireless mobile printing has been getting a boost from ongoing technology trends — specifically the proliferation of smartphones and PC tablets — and from advances in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. Lyra Research estimates that smartphones in 2012 will send 100 million pages to printers, and that number is expected to increase exponentially in coming years to nearly 12 billion in 2020.
The mobile printing industry is poised to benefit from this growth, especially since in cases where printing on the go is a necessity; fitting a laser or inkjet printer into a mobile application usually doesn’t make sense. And this, say mobile printing experts, is where mobile printers differ from the rugged handheld computing-devices, where competition from consumer-focused tablets and smartphones is blurring the line between consumer and commercial-grade machines. Stationary printers simply can’t take the jostling their mobile counterparts are built to handle, so when businesses try to use those machines in mobile settings, the results are unsatisfactory.
“Occasionally we see someone using inkjet printers in vehicles, but issues such as truck vibration and the abusive environment can create a number of problems,” says Weslake. “The electrical current requirements for laser printers are significantly high to warm up a fuser, which makes it a challenge to install in a vehicle. Movement of the vehicles can cause the toner to shift inside the cartridge, creating false ‘out of toner’ errors and poor printing.”
Forcing inkjets and lasers into mobile applications leads to a higher cost of ownership, says Johnson. If a misapplied printer in a truck fails, it forces the driver to add time to a trip in order to find a working printer, he says.
Weslake says VARs and integrators should underscore the features of mobile printers when pitching customers. “Ruggedness and durability are often overlooked because they traditionally have a higher initial cost. However, if the application is going to be used for a long period of time, then the ROI of ruggedness and durability will pay off,” he says.
In certain settings, competition from stationary machines is unavoidable. This is particularly the case in the retail environment, where handhelds are linked to inkjet or POS printers located in centralized print stations, says Weslake. In such environments, the need for a rugged portable printer isn’t the same as in the delivery and field service environments.
Consumables Sales Opportunities
A common source of recurring revenue for VARs from mobile printing solutions comes from the sale of supplies such as paper and ink. Consumables, however, tend to attract a lot of competition, Weslake points out. "VARs should have discussions with their customers to consider preprinted logos, text, special die cut, or perforation that add value in the customer's mind. I would encourage everyone to sit down with the customer and walk through how the label or receipt will be used, including who will see it after it is printed," he says.
Johnson agrees. "One of the things VARs can do a better job of is to really differentiate their solution by looking at the output of those printers to produce custom receipts and logos. If you rent a car from Avis, when you get the receipt, it's preprinted with the logo, and has terms and conditions on back. It's a lot different from the receipts you'd get at a retailer."
VARs can take inspiration from rental car companies to offer similar solutions to their customers, he says. For instance, Johnson says companies that make appliance deliveries and repairs can put their logos on customer receipts that also have the terms and conditions on the back. By finding ways to differentiate their offerings and add value, VARs have the opportunity to generate as much revenue from the sales of consumables as from the printers themselves.