Updated: Jan 18
If you're building an online business, you better start getting familiar with chatbots.
Chatbots are apps that run on top of messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger and SMS, and are designed to simulate human conversations. Based on a set of rules or powered by AI, chatbots can understand commands and answer user questions - right then and right there.
While so far mostly used for customer service automation, that's definitely not the only use for chatbots. In fact, when built atop of messaging apps and connected with various services, chatbots can be used in countless ways.
Chatbot + an online store = your personal shopping assistant.
Chatbot + finance planning app = your personal finance consultant.
Chatbot + printing service = a print bot for ordering print products.
Now, speaking of print bots…
What are print bots?
Simply defined, print bots are chatbots that let you print.
Basic print bots can fulfill simple commands, such as sending a document to the connected printer. Other, more advanced bots, may allow users to order print products with text messaging commands or through instant messenger apps, such as Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and such.
For example, if you have a photo that you want to print on a canvas, a bot can not only guide you through the ordering process but also let you upload your photo, preview the product, make edits and submit your order all without leaving the messaging app.
When compared to other ways of ordering print products, bots provide customers with a better user experience.
The existing innovations in the printing industry, like apps, are still rather clumsy. To order a photo on a canvas, the user should find and download a printing app, create an account and learn a new interface. Print bots, on the other hand, let you eliminate these steps and save time.
A brief overview of print bots
While the history of chatbots started in 1966 with the early version of chatbot named ELIZA, the first print bots were developed just in 2016.
HP Print Bot - the first one
The first printing bot that the world saw was developed by HP. It allows users to print photos and documents from within instant messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger and Slack.
However, the HP Print Bot's functionality is rather limited. For one, the bot only works with specific kinds of printers - the HP ePrint enabled printers that are developed for mobile devices, like smartphones, tablets, etc.
And two - the setup process is a bit complex, as the printer first needs to be enabled for web printing via an HP connected portal, and then added to the Facebook Messenger.
''Kodak Moments'' print bot - the best known (so far)
The same year, another grand in the industry launched its print bot - with a massive marketing campaign, the world was introduced to Kodak Moments.
The Kodak's print bot that's built atop of Facebook Messenger and powered by AI and algorithms, allows users to order their images on Kodak Memory cards. Kodak's bot can also mine through the user's phone and Facebook feed, and suggest photos and captions for printing.
While seemingly more useful than the bot created by HP, Kodak Moments still has its shortcomings.
For example, after starting the thread with the bot, users must allow access to their Facebook photos, though not everyone might like the idea of giving a brand access to their private photographs.
Besides, the Kodak Moments bot doesn't operate in all countries. So, even if the user agrees to give access to their private photos and everything else goes smoothly, he or she may still end up without their order if their country is not on the list they ship to.
Photo Gifts by Zebra Instant
Compared to other print bots, Zebra Instant offers a more enhanced on-the-go shopping experience. For example, customers can see high-quality product renderings before they make their purchase and receive their order and shipping notifications directly on Messenger.
From the business perspective, the bot is designed to help photo output companies and influencers monetize both their existing fans and customers and attract new ones.
Zebra Instant's bot is connected to several third-party print-on-demand companies that take care of order fulfillment. Their platform lets anyone use the technology via the white-label licensing program, without the need to worry about the logistics.
Who are print bots - like Zebra Instant - for?
Print bots like Zebra Instant and alike were originally developed to enable companies sell printed products on messaging platforms.
With Messaging apps growing faster than social-media platforms, they have become the place where people spend their time. Licensed print bots allow photo output companies reach their customers on their preferred communication channels, monetize these channels all while staying relevant with younger consumers.
For printing companies, bots are also a way to remove friction from the customer experience. And that, consequently, can help them boost their conversion rates and user acquisition costs.
Today, Facebook Messenger is used by over a billion people every month, and it's growing faster than Facebook itself. People are already familiar with how instant messaging works; they don't need to register, download apps and spend their time getting to know yet another interface. That makes the ordering process much faster.
Not only do print bots allow customers to submit their orders faster, there are other ways print bots improve customer experience. For example, the Zebra Instant print bot lets users:
create photo products directly from their phones;
retouch and edit photo products without leaving the messenger app;
see product mockups before submitting an order - right inside the messaging app.
Secondly, print bots are for influencers whose fans may be interested in offering printed products to their fans.
In the case of Zebra Instant, influencers can install the bot on their Facebook page to quickly monetize their Facebook audience. That is, influencers can sell print products through their Messenger channel and earn as much as 50% of each product sold.
In other words, the Zebra Instant print bot gives influencers an additional revenue source by allowing them to sell printed products online while skipping the difficult part - logistics.
The printing industry might be one of the slowest ones to adopt technologies and digital trends, but it seems that bots are on their way to disrupt the industry.
The digital printing market is growing by 7.4% a year. By implementing bots and that way improving the mobile shopping experience, we might see even more significant growth in the upcoming years.
Improving the mobile shopping experience is the key thing here since it's forecasted that as much as 66% of all of the population will own a smartphone in 2018. Thus, adopting new technologies that are developed with mobile shoppers in mind, including but not limited to print bots, today is more important than ever.