Is there still value in stocking printers and ink?

There’s no question that everyone should be doing their part of help reduce waste, recycle and save paper. The WWF urges both individuals and businesses to save paper where they can and try to buy from responsible sources. Couple this with the fact that technology has evolved to a point where a lot of documents that once needed to be printed can now be sent digitally, and it’s not hard to understand why retailers may not see as much value in stocking printers and print accessories as they once did.

Tech for Techs (TFT) – a community for technicians of all kinds, including on-site call out services, retailers, resellers, managed service providers, vendors and distributors – reports that a number of its members are struggling with printer-related sales. TFT’s founders Phil and Jenni Griffiths, who also run computer repair service Chips Computers, tells PCR that over the last few years they have seen a steady decline in printers and printer related sales.

“Other members of Tech For Techs are saying much the same,” says the couple. “The main reason is we live in a digital world and paper is soon becoming a thing of the past. Just like optical media – when digital cameras started becoming mainstream in the late 90s – everyone wanted to be able to print their own pictures at home and show them off to family and friends. Then, in the early 00s, other digital devices, like photo frames, started to appear on the market. This was soon followed by smartphones and tablets and people were suddenly able to share pictures and content of high quality around the world in seconds.

“No longer did you need to print and fax the item or even post it. Even if you do want a photo, you can generally get them done online and posted to you cheaper and with better quality than you could do yourself.”

The TFT founders also note that within retail stores themselves there is less of a need to have a printer for things such as printing customer receipts.

“When you go in a lot of stores today, they will give you the option of emailing your receipt rather than printing one. Even in our retail store, Chips Computers, we can text our customers their work order number, updates on repair progress and notices that they need to contact us as soon as possible,” they point out.

“Customers also have the option of signing TOS digitally rather than on printed paper. Repair reports will automatically get emailed rather than printed. In total, all of that combined can save up to ten sheets of paper for each customer.”

Ease of use

Another point made by TFT is that, despite how far technology has evolved, setting up printers can still be a tricky business. “Other than doing the obvious, of making things better value for money or bundling things together, it’s going to be hard for the printing sector to change the way people want to live.

“Printing is not convenient, especially in the aspect of setting up a printer for the first time,” they tell PCR. “Sometimes to get a printer set up by a proper engineer, it can cost as much as what the person has paid for the printer itself. While some people may find the set up of a printer easy, a lot of people can struggle, especially the elderly and people with disabilities.”

TFT suggest that instructions need to be a lot clearer and seeing as most computers don’t come with a CD drive anymore, replacing CDs with a USB drive to install instead could help.
Despite these fair points about the struggles of setting up both consumers and office printers, the situation does make a strong case for the continued need for retailers and resellers who can combine set-up services with their printer sales.

This is further bolstered by new research on the print industry by IT market intelligence company Context, which found that sales of printer hardware through distributors
in the UK were up by 10.5% year-on-year in 2018.

This was mainly driven by the positive performance registered by the vendors which account for 79.1% of the British market; HP (sales up by 63.3%), Canon (up 14.8%) and Brother (up 35.3%).

The research also found that it was, in fact, the retail chain that drove most of the printer hardware sales in 2018, with year-on-year growth of 17.9%. This was followed by the corporate reseller segment, which registered a growth of 10.8%, the small and medium reseller sector saw growth of 5.9%, while consumer-focused online retailers were up 2.6%.
Business-focused online retailers were the only segment in the channel which registered a negative year-on-year performance in 2018, seeing sales down 0.3%.

What’s selling?

What’s even more interesting about Context’s report is that it drills down to what type of printers have been selling well and what models are proving difficult to shift in the current climate.

Sales of multifunction printers (MFPs) were up by 14.4% year-on-year with continued growth for both laser and inkjet MFPs, which saw sales increase by 15.4% and
14.3% respectively.

Sales were also driven by the double-digit increase of consumer-targeted devices (up by 16.3%) primarily because the ASP is continuing to decrease. Consumer printers steadily increased their market share in the UK (64.8% in 2018) and drove overall imaging growth in 2018.

Things didn’t fair quite as well for single-function printers, or SFPs, during the same period of time, with sales down by 6.6% (down 14.8% for inkjet SFPs and down 4.7% for laser SFPs). This was mainly driven by the negative performance of business-targeted devices, with sales down by 12.1%.

Context notes that, according to a particular UK distributor, this pattern confirms that the shift from single to multifunction devices is continuing and is likely to be further consolidated going forward, particularly for lower spec models for which there is not a high demand from resellers.

Looking at first two months of 2019, and we can see some of the struggles that TFT mentions about selling printer hardware come through in the data.

Context reveals that sales of printer hardware through distribution in the UK were down by 3.8% year-on-year, mainly driven by the negative performance registered in February (which was down 12.3%).

However, so far in 2019, the retail channel is still driving printer hardware sales with growth of 18.9% year-on-year; followed by the corporate reseller, which registered a modest growth of 2.4%.

The small and medium reseller channel registered the strongest decrease in the first two month of 2019 (down 37.6%), followed by the business-focused online retailers (down 18%) and consumer-focused online retailers (down 11.4%).

Moving on to single-function printers and 2019’s troubles continue, with sales down by a whopping 24.6% year-on-year (sales for laser SFPs registered a drop of 25.7% and inkjet SFPs down by 19.8%) in both business- and consumer-target segments, with sales down by 27.4% and 24.5% respectively).

However, there is some hope for multifunction printers for the year ahead, as so far in 2019, sales are up by 1.5% year-on- year with continued growth for both laser and inkjet MFPs (sales were up by 2.7% and 1.3%, respectively), and driven by the consumer-targeted devices (sales up by 5%).

What all this shows is that there are certainly parts of the print sector that are suffering from the fight against electronic documentation, but delving deeper into the stats show that the retailer and corporate reseller channels are still able to utilise the need for printer hardware throughout this year and beyond – as long as they target the right users.

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