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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘e-commerce’ Category

Commercial Printing: Print Ads, a Portal to E-Commerce

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

While reading CIO magazine today, I was pleased to see an article on the commercial printing industry in this IT periodical. Actually, the article, entitled “Photo Finishes the Sale,” written by Mary K. Pratt and published in the May 1, 2014, issue of CIO, focuses more on mobile e-commerce than on custom printing. It describes technology that would allow a reader of a print catalog (or magazine) to point a camera phone at an ad (let’s say an ad for clothing), invoke an image recognition application, and be sent immediately to a mobile purchasing site, making it unnecessary for the reader to visit the retailer’s website.

Granted this is e-commerce. However, the sale begins with a photo in a print ad. Clearly, print isn’t going away.

Omnichannel Marketing: Advertising Across All Media

The CIO magazine article references “omnichannel” marketing as the newest and perhaps most efficient marketing tool. That is, by creating a seamless flow for the potential buyer–through all of the media he or she consumes in a day, including print media, desktop computers, tablets, mobile phones, and even the in-store experience with its print signage and product displays–a retailer can dramatically increase the likelihood of a sale.

To go even further, the CIO magazine article quotes the aspirations of Hudson Bay Co.’s senior vice president of corporate strategy, Ryan Craver, who “hopes the technology may someday allow a customer to use a smartphone to scan a product pictured on a sign, displayed on a mannequin or hanging on a store rack and then read about or order it right then and there.”

According to “Photo Finishes the Sale,” the key is a “frictionless” transaction: hence, the goal of bypassing the retailer’s website and going right to the point of sale. As the CIO article notes, “The mobile purchasing capability lets customers follow through instantly when they see something intriguing while paging through the newspaper or an ad circular.”

This means the retailer needs to keep the potential client “engaged” by making the whole buying experience easy and immediate.

But as a student of commercial printing, I find this very encouraging for another reason: the implicit assumption that people are, and will continue to be, using print catalogs, newspapers, and ad circulars for their reading enjoyment and as an aid in their purchasing decisions.

Technical Information on Image Recognition

The process depends on a mobile application called Pounce. According to “Photo Finishes the Sale,” vendors give Pounce (the company, not the application) materials related to an upcoming advertising initiative in advance of the sale. The application will then direct the viewer to the vendor’s mobile site using image recognition software. The potential client can then access photos and product information as well as actually make the purchase.

Interestingly enough, at this point the image recognition software only recognizes those images fed into the system by the retailers. A potential buyer could not take a photo of just any item of clothing and make a purchase or even find the item in a local store. The interested party would need to take a photo of the specific print advertisement and then access the specific vendor’s mobile site.

That said, this is still encouraging news and exciting technology. After all, just a little while ago, people were pointing their phone cameras at QR codes to access online information. Now, applications like Pounce are in place to transfer a buyer to a buying opportunity using actual photos—in printed publications.

New Directions for Image Recognition Technology

For me the article implies a number of possibilities:

  1. First of all, print ads will stay relevant. They are part of the omnichannel buying experience. This can also include such print products as posters or even building wraps (i.e., large format print signage). All of these can be the starting point for a sale.
  2. Even though the image recognition application needs to already have the visual information in its database for the hand-off from advertisement to mobile e-commerce site to occur, in the near future I expect the capabilities of image recognition applications like Pounce to expand. As “Photo Finishes the Sale” implies (in comments by Forrester Research analyst Julie Ask), location-based applications paired with the image recognition software may even allow potential buyers to find nearby brick-and-mortar stores that sell the items they want to buy.
  3. Even though the CIO magazine article doesn’t explicitly mention this, NFC (near field communication) chips in posters or other large format print signage or point-of-purchase displays may soon facilitate such mobile transactions. A poster with an NFC chip will be able to send potential buyers with smartphones directly to a mobile site where they can buy the products they want.

Opportunities abound in this arena. Apparently, they will incorporate printed media into the process.

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