Defining the ink customer



Last week we revealed how consumers who are looking to buy ink, toner and other printing supplies are increasingly turning to retailers’ own brands, according to a research report.


Retailers like Staples and Office Depot are seizing a growing share of the $100 billion imaging supply market by marketing their own brands of ink, toner and other supplies. Third party companies like Franklin and Nu-kote are currently feeling the squeeze but according to industry analysts InfoTrends, the trend may affect the likes of HP, Canon and Lexmark.


The printing giants currently own 84 percent of the print supplies market with the remainder split between the retailers that sell their own brands and the likes of Nu-kote. But the murky and ever-shifting market is not helped by a fragmented customer base that is difficult to accurately define. Analysis of customer buying patterns shows that store brand users do not rate reliability and quality as highly as OEM and aftermarket users, although they do appear to seek a balance and value a number of factors including reliability, quality, convenience, price and one-stop shopping.


One report published by technology research firm InfoTrends also reveals that a typical store brand user believes OEM products are better but their primary focus is receiving a better overall value. The Store Brand Imaging Supplies Study reveals that owners of monochrome and colour machines show very few differences when rating the importance of quality, reliability, cost and other features of colour and monochrome toners. There were also almost no difference between the two groups’ ratings of OEM, store brand and aftermarket brand products.


InfoTrends director John Shane told OPI+: "It was interesting that the store brand user does not rate quality and reliability as important as do people who use only OEMs or people who use some of the major aftermarket brands. "The aftermarket brand users rate quality and reliability pretty much as high as OEM only users do and they’re pretty much convinced their products provide that, which in many cases may not be true. On the other hand, the store brands folks appear to take more issues into consideration, such as convenience, the ability to buy more than just toner or ink but other office supplies in the same place, and are juggling a wider array of values when they’re choosing the store brand.


"It was a very interesting set of results, especially that store brand users appear to be a different type of person than the people who choose aftermarket. We weren’t necessarily expecting a difference between those two. We thought it would be more likely that aftermarket users and store brand users would be more similar to each other and OEM-only users would be the ones that were different. But it appears all three are distinct and different from each other."


Shane said there were signs of hope for the aftermarket sector which has been squeezed by the competition from store brands. He added: "People were asking if store brands would completely wipe out the aftermarket brands but it doesn’t appear that that is going to happen. Our research shows there is a core group of people who prefer the aftermarket brands and are willing to go out of their way to acquire them, which in this case means searching the internet and ordering online.


"Now we have got the main superstores already doing store brands as well as some of the consumer electronic stores such as Best Buy, there is not going to be enough room to shift across to store brands at least on the consumer side.


"There continues to be the core group of aftermarket users who continue to be much more interested in hunting out and finding the exact products that they want rather than buying on convenience. Store brands probably won’t be able to penetrate that core market and will probably see a slowing in the shift from aftermarket to store brands."


Shane described typical aftermarket users as being interested in quality and reliability and is convinced aftermarket brands provide what they need. He added: "They rate quality and reliability just as highly as OEM users and they seem to be convinced that the OEM products are simply too expensive." He said InfoTrends plan to carry out further psychographic questioning later to build a clearer demographic picture of each of the three markets and define their character traits. However, he added: "It looked from the data we received that older people are more inclined to go with aftermarket brands and the younger people were more inclined to go with the store brands. Why that is I don’t know.


"There was very little variation across the age range in the share of users who reported using non OEM products, but there was a pretty distinct shift between young people using store brands and older people using aftermarket. The one other thing that was very interesting from the study is that we surveyed inkjet users in the home as well as monochrome laser toner buyers in the office, colour laser toner buyers in the office and home photo paper user,s and those distinctions between OEM only users, store brand users and aftermarket users were all consistent across those four types of market.


"It’s odd that business users of a store brand would be very similar to home users of a store brand and it reminds me of a cartoon of corporate executives going out to buy a big expensive jumbo jet and the first thing the guy does is kick the tyres.


"It proves that people are people whether they’re at home or at work."