In the not-to-distant past, the big push for retail bakeries from a marketing and sales standpoint was to create a website. The next big step was to amplify online presence through social media outlets. Now, it is becoming increasingly important for retail bakeries to offer an online ordering option.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, retail in general has increased 2.5 percent per year over the past 15 years, while e-commerce has grown by an average of 20 percent per year. And according to a recent Nielsen report, “Shoppers now expect retailers to be available 24/7 in different formats. Retailers need to tap into this ‘omni channel’ that spreads from in-store to online to keep shoppers engaged.”
Why offer online ordering?
Perhaps more persuasive than online ordering statics like those just mentioned are real-life explanations of the importance of online ordering:
Creative Cakes (Tinley Park, IL): “We’re closed on Mondays and would often hear customers say that they’d tried to call in an order, but we weren’t here,” said co-owner Beth Fahey. “It was frustrating knowing we were losing sales. Now, our online orders allow for an increased revenue stream and customer convenience. Our customers like ordering cakes in their pajamas and appreciate the discounts we offer when orders are placed online.”
Boudin Bakery (San Francisco, CA): “With the increasing popularity of the Internet, we wanted to offer our customers another convenient way to order Boudin Sourdough, especially ‘after hours’ when many people have the time to shop,” said marketer Gayle DeBrosse. “During peak holiday ordering, it also allowed consumers an alternative to ordering via phone.”
Three Brothers Bakery (Houston, TX): “All businesses need to do business the way the customer wants to do business, versus creating a model the customer has to adapt to,” said co-owner Janice Jucker. “I think customers now expect an online component for most retail businesses, and a bakery having an online store is not a novelty anymore.”
Put simply, implementing an online ordering service is good for business, both from customer satisfaction and financial standpoints.
After the “why,” the next question to answer is “How?” There are two basic phases involved in implementing an online ordering service: start-up and maintenance.
To build an online ordering platform, you will likely need to consult with and/or hire experts in website development and e-Commerce integration. You should also be willing to invest some of your own time into the initial creation.
“You cannot just hire someone and say, ‘Build me an online store,’” Jucker said “The website is only as good as what you put into it.”
You should also be willing to bring patience to the project, as it can take as long as a year to develop and launch a new online store.
While an online ordering service is “big project to start, once it’s up and running it’s very little effort to maintain,” Fahey said. “For our operation, no extra staff is needed, but one person does need to make sure that online orders are received and processed properly.”
Three Brothers Bakery’s online ordering service also does not require any additional staff.
“At our level today, we have not hired dedicated staff for the online ordering program, although our wedding consultant and bookkeeper’s roles have both grown to encompass more of this,” Jucker said. “The upkeep is as much, or as little, as you want it to be. A good online store is dynamic and always changing content.”
As online business grows, these requirements may change. Boudin, for example, has a separate facility that maintains customer service, fulfillment, and shipping. But at least in the beginning, online ordering maintenance can feasibly fold right into your existing processes.
Ultimately, an online store is only as good as the products it offers.
“We are letting our customers decide which products we offer online,” DeBrosse said. “We look at the most popular items sold at our Flagship location at Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as our other Bakery Cafes.”
Three Brothers Bakery also takes a customer-driven approach.
“Products that are available on the website include our most popular items and items that we make on a daily basis,” Jucker said. “Additionally, we update our products based on the seasons or relevant holidays so that customers can order based on occasion, as well.”
And while it is important to meet customer demand, it is equally important to only offer what you can realistically deliver.
“We started our online store with simple things that didn’t have any options, like mini pastries, cookies, and cupcakes,” Fahey said. “Cake programming was a little more complicated, so we simplified and limited our online options.”
Pick Up, Delivery, and Shipment Decisions
Beyond product decisions, you’ll also need to decide whether you will offer your online customers in-store pick up only, or if you will also provide delivery and shipment options. Creative Cakes only offers in-store pick up for online orders, because its decorated cakes don’t tend to ship well. Boudin Bakery, on the other hand, only offers a shipping option, since online orders are fulfilled at an off-site facility. And Three Brothers offers a little bit of everything.
“We offer pickup at multiple stores, delivery to certain zip codes, and overnight shipping only for products that can actually be shipped,” Jucker said. “We have blackout dates for both days we don't ship and for dates when arrival is not possible.”
In short, implementing an online ordering service can help you boost sales, please your current customers, and reach a whole new customer base.
“Although we have existing customers that span four to five generations, we always want to bring in new customers, become a part of their lives, and help them make sweet memories,” Jucker said.