How a local bakery in California became a thriving e-commerce brand with unlimited customizations using Product Options.
Patty Gomez always had a passion for baking.
Back in 1985, as a stay-at-home mom, she loved experimenting with recipes in her kitchen, filling the house with the aroma of freshly baked cakes and other sweets. It was her creative outlet.
She even started working one or two days a week at a local bakery, near her town of Fullerton, California, just south of Los Angeles.
Other parents started to notice and ask about the delicious treats Patty made for the parties her kids attended.
As her son Philip Gomez recalls, “parents would show up and say, ‘wow, that's a great tasting and great looking cake. Would you make one for my son or daughter?’ One cake turned into two cakes, and then many, many cakes. And at that point everybody said, ‘you should have a business.’”
And so, Patty’s Cakes and Desserts took off.
For twenty-five years, Patty operated the business out of her home, expanding beyond birthday cakes into other specialty creations, such as wedding cakes. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, her reputation — and the business — organically grew, mostly through word of mouth.
But by 2010 it was clear the bakery needed a public location, and to grow online ordering capabilities via their website, which was fairly new then.
At this point, Philip was at a crossroads too. He was entrepreneurial himself and had built businesses for other people, but was ready for a new challenge and to grow a company of his own.
“So we took my mom’s kitchen expertise and my business insight, and partnered to open up a storefront. Almost 13 years later, here we are.”
Today, their Fullerton shop is a thriving spot in the community, offering up award-winning cakes and desserts that even celebrities can’t get enough of.
And a big part of their current success is thanks to the e-commerce side of their business — enabling online ordering for local pickup or delivery of their mouth watering cakes, cupcakes and more.
Philip built Patty’s Cakes and Desserts first website a year or two before partnering with Patty to launch their storefront, around 2008 or 2009.
He mulls over how much has changed in e-commerce since then.
“We take it for granted now, how ubiquitous online ordering is, but I remember when we first started online ordering, it was almost like ‘oh man, can we do this? How do we make sure that people know what they're ordering? And can we handle this? Are we gonna be overrun with orders?’”
Faced with these challenges, at the time he hired a third-party company to take care of basic online orders. But as the years passed, Philip found more and more limitations with the process and platform available to him, because of the nature of the bakery business — and by extension the need to offer extensive customization options to customers.
Bakeries fall in-between standard retail e-commerce experiences (a clothing shop, for instance) and restaurants that allow online ordering, Philip explains.
A clothing retailer will dictate to customers what shipping and delivery timeframes are for purchases made online.
Meanwhile, people order set meal options from restaurants, with perhaps a few, small modifications, usually for consumption as soon as possible that same day.
Bakeries are more akin to a catering service than either of these scenarios. “With a restaurant, you might order a burrito for yourself and maybe two friends today,” he says, as an example. “But you're not gonna order 12 burritos, for 12 days from now.”
In addition to allowing the customer to schedule pickups or deliveries for a future date, modifications that might be made to a burrito — say, no onions and extra cheese — are nowhere near as detailed as that of a custom birthday cake order, which requires selecting an option that builds on previously selected options. (More on this in a bit!)
To tackle this need for advanced customization and highly-detailed order management, Philip moved the business’s website to Shopify in 2018. But he was still running into limitations with the product options available on the platform.
For an e-commerce site, product options outline any and all variations that might exist for a product to shoppers. So for a cake this could include all the different available flavors, sizes, icing choices, decoration options, number of layers, filling types, colors and much, much more. That’s hundreds, if not thousands of different options.
But a standard Shopify store doesn’t allow for more than 100 different product options. It also doesn’t enable advanced conditional logic, meaning you can’t offer customers sequenced options.
For example, with conditional logic a customer who picks a 10 inch round, double layer cake, can then be given the choice of vegan, gluten-free or standard cake type. If they choose vegan, the number and type of filling options provided to them will be different than if they choose a standard type of cake.
Without conditional options you cannot offer shoppers the option of building on previous choices in this way.
Faced with these two key pain points, Philip went looking for solutions.
Fortunately for Patty’s Cakes and Desserts — and all Shopify merchants or brands — the platform’s extensive ecosystem of applications allows stores to pick and choose add-ons to address nearly any limitation.
To meet his shop’s needs, Philip turned to Product Options, and worked with Dan Pfiefer, a Product Manager for the app, to solve his customization challenges.
“Most customers on Shopify hit the standard 100 variant limit very quickly,” Pfiefer notes. Product Options allows for an unlimited number of variants, and any of them can employ advanced conditional logic if needed, so immediately the bake shop’s two main challenges were alleviated.
But the app (and its dedicated product team, who work one-on-one with each customer) allows for even greater customization than these two core capabilities. For instance, making the process of ordering a dessert as intuitive as possible for a Patty’s customer.
“The app offers different ways of presenting options as well,” says Dan. “If a shopper is at the point in a cake ordering process where they need to choose an icing color, we provide color swatches, so they can visualize what they're selecting.”
Customers can also type out instructions (maybe a custom message on a cake) in a text box or even upload a file — think: an image of their kid’s face to be printed on a cake. Additionally, the solution’s team provided Philip with the ability to add prices to some specialty add-ons, while leaving others as free options.
Unlimited variants enable far more than dessert-specific details as well, says Dan. “The options you can offer are nearly endless. Maybe the customer wants a handwritten note to be included, or perhaps they want to request a gift receipt or personalize the cake box somehow — it’s all possible.”
For Philip, all these little details help him simplify the ordering process for customers, reducing confusion, frustration and helping to clarify exactly what the customer wants, so his bakery team can execute accordingly.
The Product Options app makes it easy for both the customer and the kitchen staff to see what was ordered. But the information they are provided with is structured in different ways.
“The customers don't need to see all the different elements of the cake they ordered. They just wanna say, ‘I bought a cake and it's an eight inch round.’ They don't need to see all the details broken down,” Philip explains.
“Using the app, the cart you're checking out on will be condensed down to only display that one item instead of all the variants. And then their confirmation email will show the same thing. It'll be crisp and clean.”
The bakery team on the other hand does need every little detail, from the border color chosen, to the image that was uploaded and must be printed on the cake, they will know exactly what they need to bake and decorate, thanks to the variants chosen.
The app also frees up Philip’s time, so he can focus on other important business management and growth tasks, rather than spend hours updating the website.
Because not only does Product Options allow him to customize with ease, he can re-apply the same set of choices to more than one listing on his website.
“So out of the, I don't know, 50 cakes that we have online. If you choose any one of those, the flavors are all going to be the same. With some other product option apps, I would have to recreate that same list of flavors for every cake option. Well, that's a ton of extra work. That also means if I need to update the flavor list one, I need to update it in 50 places. Thankfully with the Product Options app, I can just update the flavors list once and it applies to all items at once.”
Business is booming at Patty’s Cakes and Desserts, and some of that growth is thanks to Product Options.
Since adding more dessert customization options, using the Product Options solution, custom cake orders are up 31% year-to-date, in comparison to last year, says Philip.
Just as a “difficult to use and non-friendly” order experience will frustrate and even potentially lose customers, if you have the tools to break down a complex process — like ordering a cake that requires the buyer to make up 10+ choices in some scenarios — and make it seem easy, your customers will reward you, he says.
“Do the extra work from the beginning [to set up your customizations], make checking out simple and easy, every time, and you can cash in later with your customers.”
As for the future, knowing customization is taken care of, Philip is focused on improving other parts of the business. Right now, he’s working on operations software that will help his bakers better manage the dessert production process — which of course, only improves the experience and results (i.e. delectable baked goods) for customers.
And looking ahead, someday he and Patty may want to move to a large location and expand operations even more.
After all, there’s no such thing as too much cake.