Inky business: should the home printing market re-think itself?

The personal in-home printing market is a tough environment to operate in. Manufacturers are competing against macro trends such as the gradual digitisation of everyday life and a rising belief in the need to be environmentally responsible, both of which have contributed to an inevitable reduction in the need or the desire to print as much as previous generations.

Within this larger context in the ink-jet sector over the past decade we have seen strategies affecting the amount of ink in a cartridge, printer-cartridge compatibility, cartridge ‘emptiness detection’ and of course overall price.

Marketing Sciences has carried out some independent self funded research to find out what current attitudes are around home printing and the big printer & cartridge manufacturers, via a UK nationally representative survey of 1801 personal printer owners.

So how do current behaviours compare with 5 years ago?

  • one third of printer owners said they are printing less than they were 5 years ago
  • there is a definite age divide, undoubtedly driven in part by engagement with digital media & devices
  • for many home printing is becoming confined to special occasion photos or important documents
  • improvements in printer efficiency do not seem to have assuaged consumer complaints over cartridge prices
  • 1 in 2 consumers disagreed that ‘printer manufacturers would make cheaper ink cartridges if they could’
    Paint

We found that 34% of printer owners said they are printing less than they were 5 years ago; 43% are printing about the same amount and only 20% are printing more than they were 5 years ago (the other 3% don’t know/can’t remember). So a self reported net decline of 14%.

With printing behaviour there is a definite age divide, undoubtedly driven in part by engagement with digital media & devices: while overall 10% said they no longer print anything at home, this rose to 17% of 18-24s and 20% of 25-34s, but dropped to 3% of the over 55s. Relying on revenue from an aging user base will be a concern to manufacturers.

For almost half (46%), home printing is becoming confined to special occasion photos or important documents. This is likely to rise as the acceptance of digitised travel and ID documents becomes more widespread and we start to live in a ‘digital by default’ society.

Improvements in printer efficiency do not seem to have assuaged consumer complaints over cartridge prices or cynicism towards the makers. Whilst 40% agreed that ‘I would like to print more, but it’s too expensive’, this rose to 44% of 25-44s and 44% of HP/Epson/Canon users. So the desire to print more is there…

…however, two and half times more users (52%) disagreed that ‘printer manufacturers would make cheaper ink cartridges if they could’ than agreed (19%). Here the most cynical groups were men (59% disagreement vs. 46% of women) and 55-64s (62% disagreement) – ironic perhaps given that the latter are probably one of the more valuable groups of users in the personal printing market?

An alternative business model?

2013 figures suggest that cartridge re-manufacturers such as Cartridge World, who refill cartridges to sell at a lower cost, are thriving and now account for a third of UK cartridge sales. So, whilst cartridge re-manufacturing is growing and eating into the profits of the big printer manufacturers (such as HP, Epson, Canon), perhaps the longer term damage could potentially be to the big printer manufacturers’ brand image?

So is there consumer interest in a different approach?

When asked if they would buy a new printer if it meant they could use cheap, good quality ink cartridges almost half agreed (45%), while a further third were neutral (35%) towards the idea –  and only 19% disagreed. Although we did not specify the cost of the printer (but all those surveyed were printer owners) this does suggest to me that there is definitely consumer willingness to engage with a different approach from manufacturers around printer and cartridge prices. Also, as use of peer to peer consumer advice forums become ever more prevalent, the level of ‘chatter’ over this subject will surely keep rising.

So although it might seem that the ink cartridge is the ‘golden goose’ which should be left well alone, perhaps it is time for manufacturers to recognise more strongly the importance of consumer trust & goodwill – and actively demonstrate this to customers before the re-manufacturers gain an even stronger foothold?

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Richard Snoxell
01962 842211
Article date - 24/09/2014
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