Tiny blurred images, gaudy colours, fussy layouts with ugly fonts – a quick trawl of online bakery retailers yields a pretty sad collective. ‘It is the quality of product that is important,’ a baker might say. But the maxim ‘never judge a book by its cover’ does not apply when it comes to the web.

Snap judgments on the quality, professionalism and reliability of a firm will be made within seconds of opening a homepage. Yet many bakers neglect to dress their shop window properly.

Quality of imagery and design is important when selling food online, says Leo White, a website designer with Hydrant – a design agency with a growing specialism in the food sector. And without the cost of print marketing, the web lends itself to telling stories and brand building.

“Selling a product that usually involves all the senses with only a small picture can seem very limiting,” he says. “Good photography, passionate copy writing and sympathetic design can all be combined creatively to lead the customer towards making a

purchase online.”

The number of bakery ‘e-retailers’ remains relatively small and people are generally not well acquainted with buying food online. Many companies have shied away from selling

perishables over the internet. Those that have done it successfully have carved out a niche so defining your audience is crucial.

“It may be a shock, but not everyone will want your product!” he says. “The most successful online retailers have targeted specific markets. Sectors like dietary requirements, heritage and bespoke products have all boomed. Focus on what makes your offering unique rather than trying to offer everything to everyone.”

Dispatch and delivery logistics can seem complicated where food is involved. Simple techniques such as limiting dispatch and delivery days or rewarding customers who make larger more cost-effective orders can help to overcome some of these limitations.

As foods are rarely ordered individually, the customer needs to be presented with enough choice to place an order that justifies the delivery cost, but without feeling bombarded with complicated choices. Providing a mix of high- and low-value items helps customers bulk out an order to a value they feel happy with.

But e-commerce is not just about retail – a good website can help slicken your business efficiency. “As technology infiltrates even the darkest warehouses, business-to-business e-commerce systems can provide greater efficiency and speed for re-ordering, distribution tracking and stock control,” comments Mr White. “‘Stockist-only’ areas or alternative pricing structures allow even simple websites to become working business tools.”

E-commerce can also highlight areas for improvement such as stock control. “Many modular packages will allow wholesale pricing and data import and export, making managing large product catalogues easy,” he says.

Getting the basics right Professional tips for a top bakery website

1 Plan your website strategy like any other part of your business to make sure your investment in technology is ‘scalable’ with your business. You do not have to start big; many e-commerce systems are modular and allow you to add features as required.

2 Allow time to do it justice. Building an online shop requires some thought and hard work – it is not a ‘get rich quick’ formula. A website also needs to be looked after once it is live. Updating products and content, handling customer queries and processing orders all take time, but the rewards can be significant if handled efficiently.

3 Conveying the personality of the business is often easier on the web as it has an informal feel. People may expect to see personal blogs (notebooks), shots of staff and other features that make a brand unique.

4 Make sure your site is easy to use. Online shoppers are quick to judge and a poorly thought-out site will turn them away before they have even seen your products. Test navigation structure with ‘real’ users, not just staff or friends.

5 Make an impression. Word of mouth is the best kind of marketing and a site that sticks in customers’ heads is often the one that is mentioned again. Strong visuals, clever features, customer service and individuality all help.

6 Make sure your offline systems such as dispatch and delivery can handle increased demand. Your customers will judge their e-commerce experience through to delivery. If their order is lost, delayed or incorrect, they will simply go elsewhere.

7 Provide clear channels of contact. Make sure that the customer knows whom to contact if they have queries or problems with their order. Make sure staff handling these queries are trained on the website and are able to help.

8 Make sure you can measure your site’s

performance. Basic traffic statistics should be provided as standard by any reputable web company. Others go further by tracking advertising conversion rates, sales data and referral orders.

9 Treat your customers’ data as if it was your own. Security is one of the biggest concerns for many online shoppers. From simply referring your customer to a third party for payment processing, to handling credit card data via your own secure server, there is a solution for everyone.

10 Make sure your site is well connected. Without links from other sites your site will remain an ‘island’. Major search engines won’t list sites with few links to them. You should begin negotiating with other sites to swap links. Also allow sufficient budget to advertise your site.

Leo White has worked with clients such as The Village Bakery (Melmerby), Ok Foods, The Ultimate Plum Pudding Company, Meg Rivers and other food producers.

For more information contact: info@hydrant.co.uk

Tel: 0845 8621111