Sweet Selling

Busy lifestyles are increasingly leading consumers to seek out products and services that free up time. Similarly, more bakeries are finding technologies that automate business tasks to help them improve efficiency and spend more time doing what they’re great at—baking and decorating.

Considering the higher value consumers and bakery businesses alike place on saving time, it’s no surprise that online ordering was among the top 10 retail bakery growth opportunities identified in a 2017 Bake magazine study.

A Boost From Automation

In addition to satisfying consumers' desire for easy ordering, adopting e-commerce can help streamline bakery operations. That’s been the case at Paul’s Pastry Shop in Picayune, Mississippi. Over the past decade, accepting purchases online increased order accuracy, says owner Sherri Paul Thigpen.

“The address, names and other information are correct because they’re coming directly from the customers,” Thigpen explains. “That has [significantly reduced] the number of mistakes made unintentionally because somebody misunderstood someone over the phone.”

The bakery ships between 4,000 and 5,000 king cakes during Mardi Gras season each year. “We used to have to cut off our shipping because we couldn’t get things manually keyed into the computer as fast as the orders were coming in, ”Thigpen adds. “We can ship three to four times as many as we used to when we had people taking calls.”

Along with improving efficiency and output, online order functionality can also increase a bakery’s reach—an outcome Chicago’s Warm Belly Bakeryexperienced when it began shipping its cookies nationwide in 2016.

“It helps us with exposure and doesn’t really cost us anything besides the monthly subscription we pay to host [the online ordering platform],” says Chief Cookie Officer Joe Dela Pena. “It’s added income for us and provides value for the customers.”

If you want to set up an online store, consider taking the following steps.

“We can ship three to four times as [much] as we used to when we had people taking calls.”
—Sherri Paul Thigpen, owner, Paul's Pastry Shop

1. Determine Which Items to Offer Customers

It’s a good idea to limit your online ordering menu to items that travel well. 

Warm Belly Bakery has a roster of 70 types of cookies, but it offers only about 10 at a time for local delivery and around 20 for shipped orders.

“We pared down the menu because some of our items have things like frosting we don’t feel would ship well,” Dela Pena says. In addition, a limited menu can help avoid waste and losses; you’ll be working with a smaller variety of ingredients and can make a few larger batches rather than many small ones.

2. Make Sure Inventory Aligns With What’s Offered Online

Since beginning to accept online orders roughly a year ago, The Cupcake Collection in Nashville, Tennessee, has had to tweak its ordering process. “I loved saying, ‘Today, I feel like making this,’” says CEO and founder Mignon Francois. “But I had to go to a menu with a daily structure. Otherwise, I’d have to make an entire batch just to get one cupcake [that had been ordered online].”

The bakery also requires delivery orders be placed at least 24 hours in advance. “We sell out most every day,” Francois says. “If we were to offer same-day ordering, someone who places an order online could essentially buy something we don’t have.”

3. Decide How You’ll Process Payments

While bakeries can process payments themselves, using a third-party vendor can reduce the risks associated with storing consumer information, such as data security breaches.

Paul’s Pastry Shop has customers order through its Yahoo merchant site. “When the order comes to us, we don't even have their credit card number,” Thigpen says. “None of our employees has access to customer information.”

4. Seek Out the Best Tools and Partners for Your Online Store

Finding software that’s well-suited for bakeries can be challenging, according to Janice Jucker, co-owner of Three Brothers Bakery in Houston. “Bakeries need specialthings a person who sells shirts doesn’t have to deal with,” she says. “Some things can only be picked up or delivered, some have to have overnight shipping, and for some, ground is OK. Nobody has that right out of the box.”

Jucker, who’s looking into other software options, chose the bakery’s current externally hosted platform because it features a perishability component. Seeking external help also benefited the Cupcake Collection, which partnered with a web design agency.

“These experts are telling me what I need to think about,” Francois says. The Cupcake Collection was recently featured on a national TV show, and the agency knew to check the bandwidth of the bakery’s website prior to the episode airing. “We saw a huge spike of people visiting [our site] that day,” she says. “If they hadn’t done that, the site would’ve crashed.”

Improve the Bottom Line

Online ordering may not be feasible or appropriate for all bakeries. But if you’re ready to take the plunge, proper planning can boost profits and efficiency—and free up your time to make more delicious creations.

Click here to read the full Summer 2018 Batter Up issue.