Canon brings printing to the sharing economy

Canon Australia is tapping into the sharing economy to offset a slow but steady decline in at-home printer sales in recent years. 

The company has launched a new service called PrintNow that allows people to print documents from a network of registered printers located in convenience stores, petrol stations and other retail outlets around Australia.

The service, which officially launched last Wednesday, comes in response to changing consumer behaviour. 

According to research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the camera and printer company, Australians on average use a printer for personal use just once a week, and younger Aussies are less likely to have one of their own. 

Canon’s consumer printer sales, which make up roughly 35 per cent of its printer business, have experienced a decline over the past three to four years. So far, the drop has been small – in the low single-digits – but it is likely to grow. 

“Even though we’re in a digital age, print is still one of life’s necessities. But there’s a growing realm of people who don’t want a printer at home. They want the convenience but not the hassle,” Jason McLean, director of Canon Consumer Imaging, told Inside Retail Weekly

Canon aims to plug this hole by giving consumers what they really want – not the headache of needing to buy, set up and maintain a printer at home with new ink and paper, but the ability to quickly and easily print documents whenever they want, even if it’s at the last minute. 

That’s the idea behind PrintNow, which the company first started working on about 18 months ago and tested for six months before launching it last week.  

“As far as the concept goes, it’s not that revolutionary,” McLean admitted. 

To use PrintNow, users simply create an online account and link it to their debit or credit card. They can upload or email documents and photos to print immediately or add them to their queue to print later using any device, including a smartphone. Once they arrive at their nearest PrintNow location, they enter the unique code for that device and hit print. 

The biggest difference between this service and existing ones, such as Officeworks’, is the shared revenue model. In some cases, a retail partner provides the space, electricity and wi-fi to power a printer that is owned by Canon. In these instances, Canon provides the ink and paper, and the retailer assists users if there are any issues. Canon and the retailer split the sales 70-30. 

In other cases, Canon simply facilitates the transaction through PrintNow, while the retail partner provides the printer, paper, ink, electricity, wi-fi and all the rest. In these instances, Canon’s cut is 30 per cent and the retailer’s is 70 per cent. 

Theoretically, any location that is accessible to the public, including shopping centres, libraries and even building foyers, could become a PrintNow location, according to McLean. This would enable organisations that own Canon copier machines, for instance, to recoup some of their investment. 

So far, Canon has forged partnerships with Cartridge World, Adelaide Fuel Distributors, Xtreme Communications and Urbanista, and there are currently 140 PrintNow locations across Australia. The company aims to have 500 locations within the next three to four months and ultimately wants to provide the most convenient network of printers in the country. 

Convenience will be key for PrintNow to compete not only with the likes of established print services, such as Officeworks, which has 167 locations across the country, but also more informal solutions, such as printing personal documents at work. 

“This [service] is new for Canon but old for the industry,” Matt Newell, executive strategy director at The General Store, told Inside Retail Weekly

“Printers have existed in retail networks before…like Officeworks, or corner stores. The trick [for Canon] is to find a consumer edge,” he said. 

“Technology could potentially be the thing that makes it new and different; that makes it such a smooth process you’d be crazy to print anywhere else.”

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