Printing With Profiles

The computer industry’s promise of a paperless world never came to pass, because people, well… people like paper. They’re used to it. Its physicality offers assurance that on-screen display somehow just can’t. Now, a number of web companies are combining paperless e-commerce with the physical presence of paper – without the delivery cost of a courier – to turn a purchase experience into a promotional vehicle.

Ticketmaster.com has announced that customers will soon be able to buy tickets online and print them on their own laser printer. It’s a nice service if customers will be able to avoid waiting in a line. For advertisers, it provides a very precise targeting opportunity that combines geography, interest profile, and a specific date and time.

Instead of customers receiving a mere ticket to an event, they will now print out a full sheet including coupons and advertisements. Merchants in close proximity to the event’s venue can target ads to people who will be exposed to their business at a particular time. The coupons can be set to expire at a specific time on the evening of the event rather than at some future date.

National advertisers can target people based on the type of event – basketball game, jazz concert, ballet, etc. – they’re attending.

Allowing web customers to print their own tickets and coupons isn’t new. There are plenty of coupon sites on the web, each with a slightly different twist on their value proposition.

At ValuePage.com shoppers can enter their zip code and receive a page of coupons that can be scanned at grocery stores in their area. ValPack, the traditional co-op coupon mailer, offers a similar way to target consumers by zip code, providing individual coupons redeemable at local merchants.

Many other web sites make it easy to print materials they personalize for you.

Federal Express allows customers to print airbills from its web site to be used as labels on outgoing packages. This is great for FedEx because it eliminates the expense of data entry. The service becomes beneficial to the customer by providing an online address book, email notification, and the convenience of not having to keep special forms on hand.

Companies like Stamps.com and E-Stamp allow people to print postage on their laser printer. However, neither of these companies allows users to add an advertisement to their stamps as traditional postage meters from Pitney Bowes do.

Take a look at the items web visitors can print as they do business with you, then think of ways to use that printed sheet to deliver your message. There are many opportunities for web companies to personalize printed materials, such as a page of cross-sell promotions printed out along with the shipment’s packing slip.

National retailers can use this same technique to provide web visitors with special discount coupons for use in local stores based on each customer’s profile. For retailers facing heavy competition in particular geographic regions, this technique makes it easy to target customers there without sacrificing margins across the country.

If you’re interested in the tools and technologies needed to implement your own web-based couponing system, check out the Internet-based ticketing system project at the University of California, San Diego.

Another interesting technology is available from Scitex, the company that pioneered digital image processing prior to Adobe Photoshop. It now offers a print on demand product that makes it easy to use profile data to personalize printed materials such as product sheets and direct mail pieces.

This technology can be used to print full-color catalog sheets of products based on a customer’s purchase history. Combine a colorful set of products personalized for each customer along with a tailored letter, and you’ve got a great way to bring customers back to your web site for additional purchases.

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