Despite the tenure of the mature print industry, printer supplies manufacturers are working to develop new technologies and innovations that continue to keep the market interesting and relevant. These manufacturers are constantly looking for what will help consumers and businesses improve workflows, increase efficiencies, reduce costs, while also being environmentally sustainable. With that, we are seeing an influx of trends that are further shaping the print industry and keeping consumers and businesses on their toes when they go to buy new supplies or a new printer.
Here’s a look at five of the major shifts taking place:
1. CISS Technology
Arguably one of the biggest disruptions to the traditional ink cartridge, the Continuous Ink Supply System (CISS) devices have been around for several years and are now making waves among consumers in the US. The technology features cartridge-free printing with refillable ink tanks housed in the device. The business model for CISS devices typically requires a higher acquisition cost for the hardware as the devices come with up to two years of ink in the box. With that, customers essentially don’t have to think about replenishing their ink for up to two years after they purchase the new hardware. Additionally, the replacement ink bottles are inexpensive compared to traditional ink cartridges and provide substantially higher yields, which result in lower long-term print costs and reduced total cost of ownership for users.
Epson was the first to debut its CISS-based EcoTank lineup in the US in August 2015 and Canon followed roughly 1.5 years later with the launch of its PIXMA G-Series MegaTank portfolio. Other major industry players including Brother and HP also manufacture and sell CISS-based devices in developing markets outside of the US, but have yet to bring their portfolios stateside. Since Epson’s entrance into the US over two years ago, the vendor recently refreshed its EcoTank portfolio with enhanced ink supplies and hardware features, that according to Epson, were based on customer feedback. Epson’s efforts to revamp its portfolio signal that the manufacturer is committed to expanding its lineup and likely indicates a certain level of success that the company has experienced from the new technology. Epson has also stated in recent financial results that it’s seeing increased revenue and growth from the portfolio. Looking ahead, it’s expected that Epson and Canon will maintain strategic focus on this aspect of their lineups as customers appear to be adopting the CISS concept, which addresses the pain points surrounding the high price of and frequency of ink replenishment.
2. Subscription- or Contractual-Based Supplies Replenishment Programs
Over the past few years, consumers and businesses have become more sensitive about printer supplies replenishment costs and the burden associated with running out of ink and toner. As a result, manufacturers and retailers have developed a plethora of programs that address these issues and also work to lock customers in to purchasing original OEM ink on a more consistent basis.
Some of these programs include the most basic monthly subscription such as the offering from Canon with its Ink and Toner Subscription Program, where customers can set their supplies delivery schedule based on their specific preferences. A more advanced program is offerd by HP with its Instant Ink program where customers can purchase ink supplies based on how much they print at a reduced monthly fee compared to purchasing individual cartridges. Overall, this program yields significantly lower print costs compared to purchasing cartridges on a transactional basis (a.k.a. or when you run out) and monitors ink levels for you sending cartridges when you need them. A few printer manufacturers have also partnered with online resellers and retailers to provide supplies fulfillment upon a customer’s need for replenishment. For example, Brother and Samsung partnered with Amazon for participation in its Dash Replenishment Service (DRS), which launched in early 2016, and Staples recently launched a similar program, Auto Restock, in partnership with HP that essentially performs the same function as Amazon’s DRS, where the supplies are monitored via the device fulfilled via Amazon and Staples.
Ultimately, these programs have one thing in common. They are designed to help customers better manage their printer supplies ordering in an effort to prevent inconvenient timing with running out of ink and toner. This trend has helped manufacturers and resellers capture more supplies revenue by ensuring that customers are ordering supplies on a regular basis. They also prevent customers from purchasing aftermarket third party supplies brands that essentially take share away from the printer manufacturers. This trend is expected to be an integral part of industry strategies for the indefinite future as the majority of consumers and businesses are making a large portion of their purchases online.
3. Alternative Ink and Toner Ingredients
With the continuing global focus on the environment, companies are developing new materials and production methods that help reduce natural resource consumption. With that, printer supplies manufacturers are also exploring new alternative materials to incorporate as key ingredients in ink and toner formulations. Aftermarket supplies manufacturer West Point Products launched its AgriTone BioBlack toner nearly ten years ago that is developed from soy-based products. The technology uses renewable biobased ingredients including soybean oil resulting in a product that is roughly 37% biobased. Although the AgriTone formula is not new per se, the technology took several years to catch on and gap intelligence is still seeing an influx of West Point’s AgriTone ink and toner products sold in US open distribution channels. The West Point AgriTone portfolio caters to customers that are seeking a more sustainable product and the brand is one of the few major aftermarket players to launch a truly eco-friendly printer consumable. Additionally, the product line features remanufactured empty OEM ink and toner cartridges and recycled packaging that further contribute to environmental sustainability. It’s expected that alternative ink and toner supplies will become more critically important in the industry in the next 5 to 10 years as global environmental protection measures become more rigid.
4. Recycling and Remanufacturing
Recycling and remanufacturing ink and toner is not a new industry trend, but it is becoming increasingly important to consumers when shopping for printer supplies. I just read an online customer review the other day that shamed a printer manufacturer (that I won’t name) for making it difficult to send back empty ink cartridges for recycling. Additionally, customers are intentionally shopping for remanufactured aftermarket third party printer supplies knowing that the manufacturing process is eco-friendly and prevents many cartridges from reaching the landfill. With this change in consumer preferences, manufacturers remain strategically focused on reducing their environmental impact with respect to recycling and remanufacturing.
Lexmark is one of the industry’s global leaders for its printer supplies recycling programs. The company launched its Collection and Recycling Program, which is available in more than 60 countries and has been active for several years. According to Lexmark, the program remains a key focus for the vendor in its sustainable strategies, reporting that it recovers millions of used cartridges each year. Xerox, on the other hand, is one of the only original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop its private-label remanufactured supplies portfolio that is compatible with Brother and HP devices. In addition to its cartridge lineup for its own Xerox devices, the company is strategically focused on its remanufactured cartridges that are sustainably made and help the vendor capture market share from Brother and HP, as Xerox can deploy the cartridges in non-Xerox print environments. Xerox also offers customers a free recycling program for its Xerox Replacement Cartridges that further aims to reduce the company’s environmental footprint and demonstrates the company’s commitment to reducing waste.
5. Ink Refills
The ink refill market has experienced some ups and downs over the past several years, but the concept remains an integral component to the printer supplies industry worldwide. The service provides customers with a low-cost option for reusing their empty ink supplies that is also eco-friendly. Several years ago, the service was offered at an abundance of US retailers including office supply stores, hardware stores, drug stores, and specialty franchises such as Cartridge World. Fast forward to a few years ago, and there were very few places that customers could refill empty ink cartridges.
More recently, a local California company, Retail Inkjet Solutions (RIS), has taken advantage of the lack of refill options available and has essentially revamped the technology. The RIS refill technology is now placed at Costco, Sam’s Club, and Fry’s Electronics retail locations across the US, providing customers with discounts up to 70% versus the OEM counterpart. The company has also expanded its service offering to Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Romania, and the UK, indicating the global need for ink refill technology. According to RIS, it utilizes high-quality pigment and dye formulations along with its proprietary patented refill technology to ensure that the empty cartridge is cleaned and filled properly.
Although ink refilling is likely not the most popular method for the general consumer, many environmentally conscious print customers prefer this process to purchasing an entirely new cartridge, which depletes natural resources.