Amongst all the banana bread and sourdough loaves emerging from London ovens, it’s still tricky to get your hands on basics like flour in the supermarket. But Aries Bakehouse in Brixton has found a way to keep supplying its customers with flour, along with beer, wine, honey and gelato as well as its usual bakery items.
The bakery launched in 2018 at the helm of Jackie and Les, and the two are busier than they were before lockdown. “My partner and I had to scale back opening days from five to three just to cope with the spike in demand — we’re now selling around 300 sourdough breads in three days,” explains Jackie.
Aries has been able to do this thanks to using Square, the online payments company founded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in 2009. The bakery was already using Square’s card reader for in-store payments and managed to set up a website for online orders to allow the bakery to keep selling.
“Our customers are loving the convenience of being able to secure their goods online and collect them later — maybe something that will remain in the future,” adds Jackie.
Just over a year ago, Square launched a revamped version of its Square Online Store feature which allows sellers to set up websites and take online orders. The e-commerce side of the company is headed up by David Rusenko, co-founder of Weebly, an online website builder, which Square acquired in 2018. “Square started out with the little white reader and was focused on in-person commerce and really revolutionised the industry in doing so successfully,” explains Rusenko. “Weebly’s strength was starting from the online perspective and getting businesses who traditionally do business in person to expand online. The combo of those two is really powerful.”
Since the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns in place across the world, Rusenko says there has been a huge increase in sales as sellers turn to using Square Online, five times more in March than in January. In the company’s recent earnings calls, sales via Square Online reached $59 million per week, which amounts to $3 billion a year in terms of gross-payment volume. A lot of that has been to do with food and drink businesses pivoting to online for the first time whether it’s delivery services or selling goods.
Prior to the pandemic, businesses had often said they wanted to sell online but had come up against issues, such as being too busy to focus on it. But when the ‘Stay Home’ orders came in in March, many had to switch that up. “What’s been really fantastic is seeing sellers who maybe wanted to go and sell online but hadn’t done so yet. But having the rich platform and integrated system [meant] that so many sellers were able to at almost a click of a button go online,” said Rusenko. “Before the pandemic, selling online was something that was sort of nice to have .. it’s really brought it to be something that was business critical and that they had to do it to help their business survive.
If a seller already uses Square for in-store payments, they can go to their Square account online and set up a new online store for free. They choose which items they want to offer online and then all the items, pricing and images will synchronise so they are ready to go. As well, they can include offerings such as local delivery, eGift cards, whilst taking advantage of Square’s inventory management and SEO tools. A new option since the pandemic is to offer kerbside or contactless pickups.
Today Bread in Walthamstow is another London bakery that has been using Square to sell online in the lockdown. As well as bread and flour, the bakery has been selling pastries, wild garlic pesto and local jam. Customers can order online for delivery and the bakery has expanded its delivery areas to accommodate the increased demand.
“The key ingredients for many bakeries right now will be finding a way to take orders online and a means to deliver. At Today Bread, it took us only a few days to start selling online and do deliveries on bikes,” says founder and owner Alexandre. “We started with ingredients we already had in bulk (flour, eggs and seeds) and now sell kitchen cupboard basics and home baking starting kits – our bread proving baskets are selling fast.”
As well as helping sellers get online, Square also set up a new search engine, named Give and Get Local. Simply input your postcode and find the local businesses around you to support, from coffee shops to bakeries and bookstores. For places that aren’t open and operating, you can support them with a gift card. “We’ve heard stories of sellers where their loyal customers and community came through for them and purchased gift cards that were able to cover a month’s worth of payroll for their staff,” says Rusenko.
There’s been a real impetus by customers to come together to support their local business. “They want the store to be there a year from now.”
As the UK starts to open up again, with non-essential stores allowed to operate from June 1, Rusekno thinks e-commerce will remain an important part of a business’ offering, Take Today Bread, who says they are busier now than pre-Covid. “I think the online tools can be really empowering to help them not just weather the storm but also expand their business and grow,” says Rusenko.
“What’s likely to happen is some will shift back to dine in but also a lot of the behaviours we’ve established such as restaurants having a Square online store, people will continue to use them. People were planning on doing them anyway, it’s just this is their forcing function to get them to use those technologies.”