Post-pandemic printer pains
Are printers staggering to an aged end, tottering to the ink-drenched finish line? Or are they still a business necessity?
The pandemic had a massive impact on the printing business and on the business of printing. Millions of suddenly remote workers experienced a seismic shift from traditional print-based processes to digital ways of working, with printers losing significant commercial ground. IDC revealed that print volumes had dropped by nearly 14% in 2020, with the likelihood of this decline continuing as more companies adopt hybrid and remote working practices alongside paperless initiatives. Statista’s research reflects a somewhat similar trend with an uptick in printer sales in 2021 and 2022 followed by a dip in 2025.
These sentiments are shared by Forrester which, in its US Tech Market Outlook by Category for 2021 and 2022, found that the spend on peripherals will continue its slow growth in 2022 after a spike in 2020 and 2021 as companies invested into home office technology to keep employees and businesses going during the pandemic. Now, as the new normal blends both work and office, many companies are wondering if printers are perhaps as necessary an evil as they previously thought. Are the costs on ink, paper and device maintenance really worth it when digital can pretty much do everything, only faster?
According to a study undertaken by Konica Minolta and BPO Media, around 75% of respondents across consumers and businesses felt that a printer was somewhat important. This sentiment was echoed in another study by the Imaging Channel, which found 31% of people were copying and printing more than in the past. The printer isn’t dead; just like the PC, it’s simply going through a phase. What is interesting, however, is that even with declining printer purchase volumes, companies are experiencing soaring printer costs. According to an Epson survey, this is because the majority of employees (70%) were buying the wrong types of printers, which resulted in the business carrying the cost. This has seen an increase in managed print services that are now evolving to meet changing workplace and workforce expectations.
In South Africa, there also remains a cultural and administrative reliance on paper. Here, printing isn’t so much an obsolete practice as it is a mandatory part of life. In triplicate. Paperless is a distant reality for organisations looking to onboard suppliers and manage finance teams and ensure that systems are compliant. It is equally far in the future for financial institutions that rely on paper to ensure that RICA and FICA are obeyed. This is further complicated by the fact that a large percentage of the population is not digital or even close to becoming digitised, and this is not just a local concern. It’s a global one. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2021, around 37% of the world’s population had not used the internet. The correlation to the printer isn’t tenuous – it means that printers remain one of the lowest barriers to entry for a vast percentage of the population that’s seeking to engage with the organisation.
Printers and printing solutions are evolving to meet changing business and consumer expectations and will very likely loom dark and large in office corners for some time to come.
Brainstorm: What are some of thebiggest printer trends right now?
Caron de Fortier, manager, HP printers and supplies, Drive Control Corporation: Cloud-based managed print services have emerged as a major differentiator, with many organisations opting to partner with experts that manage their printer fleets remotely and offer benefits such as cost-per-page models.
Lee-Anne Letcher, product manager, CIG Marketing, Canon Southern Africa: Businesses can print their own flyers, posters, and point of sale because of the printers available to them. Another trend is to have printing devices that are efficient, with cost management features. Functions like skip blank pages, energy-saving capabilities, enforcing print principles (departmental printing), duplex scanning, fast first-time page, low energy modes and print preview before printing are all features that can make the businesses more efficient while bringing down their cost of printing.
Hilton McCall, head of Graphic Communications, Ricoh South Africa: There’s a growing need to manage more jobs with lower run lengths and better integration with digital communication and better workflow automation. These are designed to improve printing operations while pursuing more efficient energy use. The shortage of skilled workers, particularly with inkjet experience, remains a challenge.
Shaun Hattingh, operations manager, Datacentrix: We’re still seeing a significant requirement for printing within the mining sector specifically; this arena continues to focus on hard copy documentation and more manual processing due to the nature of the environment within a mine. The medical industry also, to a point, still has a requirement for physical documentation.
Brainstorm: What kind of printing is dominating the business environment and how is this evolving?
Tamzin Gray, senior sales manager, Epson SA: According to the Printing Industry in South Africa 2021 report, the pandemic caused an increased demand for packaging due to the growth in online sales and greater demand for digital printing. In addition, there’s been an increased focus on sustainable printing in the business environment, due to hybrid and flexible working models. Energy usage is still a key challenge in the industry. Although 95% of organisations monitor their printer fleet’s energy consumption, only 35% have a clear view. There is, however, a strong desire in the business sector to understand more about the savings they could make by changing their print fleet management and by changing the types of printers in use.
Hilton McCall, Ricoh South Africa: The pandemic and worldwide lockdowns negatively impacted many printed application volumes. But sales of physical books remained strong and even increased across Europe and several other regions in 2021. Book printing remains a powerful business driver in the corporate market.
Nick East, sales director, Itec South Africa: Smart printing is dominating the business environment, resulting in savings on paper and other resources. Sensors in printers can send signals to indicate the need for machine maintenance or toner replacement, which is highly effective in reducing customer downtime. AI can also help reroute printing jobs automatically to another printer. Combining IoT with AI-enabled services can deliver more personalised solutions, predict paper usage, send alerts on possible breaches, and transform the printing environment into an efficient and highly reliable one.
Brainstorm: What technologies and solutions are shaping this market?
Lee-Anne Letcher, Canon Southern Africa: Digitalising documents makes the document more versatile and gives the business so many more options. It’s also no surprise the energy efficiency of the devices is top of mind, things like adaptable standby modes and timing, automatically turning the device off at certain times, like close of business.
Hilton McCall, Ricoh South Africa: There are many. These include: hybrid mail software, UV flatbeds, new scanner options for high-speed inkjet platforms, new workflow automations, and continued innovations for added colour stations, substrates, and others in direct-to-garment, latex large format, large format, wide format, and inkjet devices.
Mohammed Vachiat, head of Sales and Innovation, Konica Minolta South Africa: There’s a big move in favour of cloud computing, IoT, with the multi-functional device becoming commoditised in the process. Another shift is towards more robust security. In a secure environment, such as the printing of confidential or classified information, like exam papers, for example, the organisation’s ICT framework has to work hand-in-hand with the printer security features of the multifunctional devices in order to bring about complete peace of mind.
Clearing space for point of sale
How Cape Union Mart refined its payments and customer interactions by investing in printers that fit the space and the need.
Cape Union Mart, a one-stop destination for outdoor enthusiasts, travellers and explorers, is a well-known retailer with a solid outlet footprint across the country. The company required a mobile point of sale (POS) solution that was capable of working offline when there were power or network issues, and that could handle printing to very specific retailer expectations, speeds and standards. The company didn’t want customers to endure long queues and delays, particularly during power failures, while waiting to pay.
“Our mobile POS solution allowed us to introduce flexible instore payments that are faster and easier for our customers,” says Faizel Govender, IT Store Infrastructure and Systems Support coordinator at Cape Union Mart.“Then, because our customers still want physical receipts to ensure they can easily exchange or refund their merchandise, if necessary, we introduced the Epson TM-m3011 range of printers to the POS system.”
Printing isn’t so much an obsolete practice as it is a mandatory part of life. In triplicate.
The company opted for the printer range because they were small and compact and could use the same rolls of paper that were already instore. They added one to every store, giving customers the option to print the invoice if they didn’t want it emailed. In addition, the platform allows for the retail chain to use Bluetooth printing, which made it a lot easier for the team to manage POS printing across multiple mobile devices. “We opted to use the Epson series of printers because they work on most platforms and are easy to use and setup,” says Govender. “It’s a versatile printing platform and the setup process is genuinely easy to manage across different stores and devices. The company uses the TM-T70 series instore on the FEC POS terminals and the TM-m3011 printers on the mobile devices with the goal of using them on the new FEC devices that are to be introduced in the future.”
Improved store aesthetics
The company has been with Epson for a while as the printers not only tick the boxes of ease of use and reliability, but also meet its need for speed. As Govender points out, customers don’t like waiting, so slow printers are a hard no for the stores.
“We want to eliminate long lines so having these devices installed across the stores has meant that we’ve sped up the process by more than 50% because they print at speeds of up to 250mm per second,” he adds. “Plus, the colour is an important factor. These printers are black so they can be hidden better for improved store aesthetics and provide a sleeker look and feel. We also like the idea of using the white Epson printers in its Poetry stores as the colours would work well in that environment. Finally, another bonus is that these printers are smaller than older designs, so they free up real estate at the POS station.”
The printer range is compact and cube-shaped, so it allows for the retail firm to free up valuable counter space while fitting in with the aesthetics. The printers also come with a paper-saving function and near-end sensor so that employees can rapidly change the paper without impacting on queue times or efficiencies. The other advantage for the Cape Union Mart stores is that the connection with the mobile POS devices means that customers could retain social distancing regulations during the pandemic, and now are not constrained to stand in the check-out point queues.
“The printer range proved to be the perfect fit for our stores, and we’ve saved on maintenance and replacement costs because the devices are hardly ever faulty; they just keep working,” says Govender. “In the next couple of months, we will be rolling out the latest versions of the FEC devices to improve efficiencies and we’re going to move the TM30s over to these devices instead of the TM70s so we can have faster results and constantly evolve our customer service and efficiencies.”
* This feature was first published in the July edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.