Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 2016 Observations - Printer industry woes on display in retail

A recent paper purchase included a "Free App" offer
As I read about the decline in HP Inc's ($HPQ) share price in today's stock market, and the reasons behind it (see "HP Hits a Jam with Printers"), I immediately thought of some anecdotal data I gathered earlier this week. In the proud marketing research traditions of "the focus group of one" and "the last customer I talked to", let me explore what could be going on behind these observations.

I found myself in an Office Depot ($ODP) for the first time in a long time, and in addition to looking for another supply item (whiteboard markers), I needed to buy a ream or two of printer paper. This was my first paper purchase in quite some time - I am guessing at least a year - and our multiple home and office printers were all in need of paper reloads.

Teased on the front, the back of the paper package has details.
I was a bit surprised by the pricing, having remembered basic copier/printer paper typically at under $5 a ream, sometimes well under, but I finally found a deal on Hammermill (brand name - nice!) at $10 for two. (Though $6.99 for one - I hate that!) So I grabbed my two reams, along with the markers, paid at the front and exited, with the courteous checker reminding me that my receipt included a coupon to be used on my next visit, for "25% off (selected) printer ink products, when buying two or more," or something like that. Again, these complicated and restrictive offers annoy me!

Getting the paper back home (actually on the front seat of the car while driving back home), I noticed details on the packaging that I found fascinating. Both the front (teaser) and the back (details) touted a Hammermill smartphone printing app, named "Print Hammermill".  Offering basic mobile printing functionality, their app seems to do what many others have already provided, but at least I like their three customer-need-based scenarios, from home, work, and school.

As a blogger/analyst following the development of mobile printing from the beginning (see April, 2008, "iPhone Printing Revisited", for example), at one time I probably would have been thrilled to see this, as further validation of an important imaging and printing trend. "It's not just printer OEMs and a handful of mobile apps startups..." - I can see the opening line of my post now, in 2010 or 2012, maybe. In mid-2016, it now seems unnecessary and even somewhat desperate.

While supplies last! "Valid through 12/31/2015" says something, too. 

What I found more than a little strange however, but again keeping with grand marketing traditions, was the limited-time "offer" that the app could be downloaded free, from both Apple's App Store and the Google Play equivalent, for iOS and Android mobile devices, respectively. The tease on the front dared to declare a "$12.95 Value", only continuing, per the details in fine print on the back, "until 12/31/15", or "while supplies last". And just how are supplies exhausted with a downloadable software app? I am not sure.


Supplies must have lasted! App store screenshot from June 2016 shows the free app - newly revised - still available.

I had a few further take-aways, as well. While no "fresh-until date" applies to copier/printer paper, the fact that the expiration date of the offer is six months past tells me that paper - like other printer supplies - is just not moving like it used to, at least through the Office Products channel represented by one Office Depot in Boise. And the continuing presence of the app, with a new version as of May and still free on the Apple App Store (see above), is a good sign. However, the web address offered on the packaging is a dead end, at least when I try it today, so the enthusiasm by International Paper (supplier of Hammermill) is a bit of a mixed bag, at least as seen by this observer.

And before I get too snarky about the app itself, the App Store reviews going along with the 10 ratings for the new version were glowing. The "all versions" screen shows a 5-star average for 498 ratings, with a sampling of the reviews (not unexpectedly) very positive as well.

And the final question - have I tried it? Not yet - seems I just don't print that much...

NOTE - Last Observations I promised a further look at spin-off technologies from HP's printer unit. That topic will be covered in my July Observations.

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