Ecommerce grew by 129% in 2020 despite overall commerce falling in the face of restricted spending in the pandemic. Consumer demand for online purchases, nonetheless, rose together with new expectations like faster delivery time, more personalizations, and immersive shopping experiences.
As the CEO of an e-commerce brand, it was all you could do to keep up. The strategic possibilities were exciting, but you were too busy chasing down tedious tasks to get a full panoramic view of where the market was headed.
Besides, with no precedents, no one really knew where the market was headed.
Part of the tedium in your own day-to-day includes a long list of fragmented processes that you never seem to get ahead of. So many of the newer processes are broken due to too-fast launches to e-commerce channels. With the world in lockdowns through 2020, however, decisions had to be rushed. Today, you’re suffering the operational aftermath.
Getting a foothold in e-commerce seems insurmountable next to the towering stack of to-dos, doesn’t it?
If your face burns at the thought of failing in the push to e-commerce, you aren’t alone. These are complex times. As the CEO of an e-commerce brand, the time is now to improve your processes and free up more time for strategy. It’s only then that you’ll be able to build a legacy you’re proud to leave at your company.
Any CEO will leave a mark, but in e-commerce, even the smallest decisions today can have a colossal impact tomorrow.
So, how do you know what to prioritize? How do you find leaks in the hull? How do you get ahead of the fast-flying changes in the market?
The answers to these and other questions are straight ahead. Keep reading to learn what specific strategies a CEO in e-commerce can leverage to leave a more positive and lasting legacy.
The Future of Ecommerce in General, and for You
The landscape of e-commerce has been changing ever since its inception. Each year, new developments help competitive businesses grow and shake other businesses out. Which will be the case for your brand this lap around the sun?
Leveraging the newest changes in e-commerce starts with understanding them.
Shoppers worldwide will continue to fuel the e-commerce explosion. Growth was already trending in favor of online shopping, but 2020 accelerated that trend. At the height of the worldwide lockdowns, a decade of e-commerce growth happened in just 90 days. In 2019, around 50% of consumers said they had shopped online at least once in the prior three months. By the end of 2020, that number was up to 84%.
It’s not every brand that’s gaining traction online, however. With an estimated 24 million e-commerce websites today, only one million sell more than $1,000 in a year.
This clearly isn’t a baseball field in Iowa. There’s no such thing as “If you build it, they will come.” A successful e-commerce presence starts with the thought leadership’s ability to strategically promote your brand across multiple channels at once. The alternative is letting your legacy completely fizzle out.
Top Tips for the Strategic Legacy of Ecommerce CEOs
Every road has a turning point. It’s that point we remember later…for better or worse.
In e-commerce, 2020 marked a fork in the road. It was a mandatory turning point for everyone in the market: e-commerce or bust.
Which direction did you turn?
One of the biggest challenges you face as a CEO is prioritizing your responsibilities. Depending on where e-commerce strategy falls on your list, some of the following tips might be easier said than done. However, if you do want to be remembered as the CEO who brought the brand to new heights in e-commerce, the following tips will absolutely point you in the right direction.
1. Optimize Processes, Save Time
Process optimization isn’t just for the COO. Any process you’re a part of is one you should weigh in on, too, so that everyone in the organization can work better.
Ecommerce is booming in a big way, and there’s zero time for slowpokes. Getting your products available online, for example, is notoriously a clunky to-do that delays brands months or even years in launching to new platforms.
This isn’t realistic in today’s market.
Following that example, imagine integrating a product information management software (PIM) into your product data efforts to make multiple departments immediately more efficient. When you calculate the weeks and months saved, the ROI is enormous.
There are several other ways a PIM saves you time, too.
Saving this kind of time marks the turning point where the rapid changes in e-commerce start to feel exciting instead of crushing. Not only will superior product information management give you more time to focus on strategy, but it will also energize you—and that energy is something the rest of your team will feel, too.
2. Strategically Look at Channels
Imagine you’re surfing the web over your lunch hour. You’re eating at your desk, again, because you have a call in 15 minutes.
As you navigate from one article to another, you see a story pop up about a manufacturer who increased sales by 1,000% by simply moving the brand’s efforts to new e-commerce channels.
Once the initial disbelief fades, without even reading the article, you find yourself thinking, “am I on the right channels?”
When you look at your legacy, you don’t want to be the CEO that simply “got the brand online.” You want to be the CEO who got the brand on Amazon, or Etsy, or whatever specific channels will define your success in selling online.
Just listing your products on new channels isn’t enough—you have to get under the noses of those consumers you most want to reach. You have to optimize the socks off of your listings, too, to stand out next to the competition. The strategy that adding even one new channel requires is sizable but essential.
Right about now, you might be thinking, “I don’t have time for that.” If you take this in steps, however, it becomes manageable. As you make it through each step, you’ll gain steam and feel the pace pick up.
Here are four easy steps to follow:
- Identify which marketplaces or other sales channels your avatar is on
- Identify the requirements of that platform (cost per listing, data requirements, etc.)
- Research your product category (and the competition) on that platform
- Outline the tasks that need to be completed to launch on that platform
Broken down this way, your channel assessment project becomes more manageable. More importantly, by identifying the right channels to sell on, you put a name to your legacy. “That’s when we started selling on Amazon,” they’ll say. Or they’ll remember the new markets you uncovered when the brand started selling on Best Buy. Or the product catalog on Facebook will forever redefine your brand’s public image.
Whatever your legacy will be, the channels are the road it arrives on.
3. Redefine Collaboration
Everything about marketing, customer service, order fulfillment, and even product development are operationally crisscrossed today. Departments have to work fluidly together with shared data and clear processes to keep the cogs of e-commerce moving fast enough to keep up.
Collaboration has been a buzzword for a long time. These days (the age of SaaS solutions and remote work), the tools available to collaborate have taken cooperation to a more elevated space that frankly puts conference calls and unnavigable email chains of yesteryear to shame.
As the CEO, you have an opportunity to not only encourage collaboration but redefine it. Part of this comes down to the high-profile role you play, and another equally important part is the very nature of being a CEO.
CEOs are as adept in marketing as they are in operations. As a result, CEOs of e-commerce brands can act as the “central station” of the rail running between the marketing and operations teams. Decisions, strategy, and key reviews go through that station, but only in transit. As long as you do not act as a bottleneck, the rail will function smoothly.
To carry the metaphor, there’s supporting equipment that keeps people moving through the rail station, too. That equipment is what enables passengers to enter and exit train cars without ever interacting with a representative or digging for change in their pockets. In the same way, a CEO implements key tools and software to keep teams moving through the station on predetermined workflows.
Collaboration then runs fluidly from department to department.
For example, if the marketing team will be responsible for optimizing product listings and ads, they’ll need access to the same product data that inventory creates in the ERP. They’ll need to add to that data, too, with complex versioning for multiple channels. They’ll need to store product media like photos and videos as well.
However the marketing team adjusts or add to product data, it can’t be siloed away from the ERP. Otherwise, order fulfillment workers would not have the most complete and accurate product information to work with. The media-rich and version-laden product data from marketing can’t be stored in the ERP, though.
What’s a CEO to do?
As the CEO, you have to set the expectation for consistent, shared access to a single source of truth of product data. Then, you have to vet the tools—like the PIM software we mentioned before—to “install into the central station” so that commuters can pass freely.
Collaborators today are empowered by technology. From PIM software to collaboration tools like multi-player whiteboards and real-time document sharing, your priority should be to empower as much collaboration as possible with the right stack of workflow solutions.
4. Set Goals People Understand
Growth can only be measured with specific goals. The longstanding best practice in business has been to favor “SMART” goals, or:
The good news for an e-commerce CEO is that everything online is measurable. Utilizing data allows you to see patterns earlier and cultivate best practices to bypass errors. Use that to your advantage and define goals (measured by key performance indicators, or KPIs) early, and then repeat them often for your team. Identifying KPIs early also allows you to set the benchmarks required to more quickly measure progress.
The clarity in these goals is key when explaining them to staff. KPIs and SMART goals often gallop in with loads of other business jargon, and while those two concepts are popular enough that most team members know them from heart, the rest of the language used in goals needs to be explained with examples and guidance. Part of your role as a CEO is to resonate with your staff on the most relatable level.
Specifically, leadership in e-commerce requires hammering out the “what” and “why” of your goals and KPIs in terms that are as easy to act on as they are to understand. Remind yourself of that every time you roll out a new KPI or give staff updates on goals.
Many strengths common among CEOs overlap no matter the industry. However, the most successful CEOs of e-commerce businesses have flourished in the rapid-growth environment this industry demands.
The hyper-competitive nature of e-commerce (arguably more intense than in most industries today) requires a specific set of skills, especially in company leadership. Those are the skills these tips promote: a knack for implementing more efficient processes, a strategic eye looking at the digital channels for both sales and marketing, the tech-savvy support of collaboration, and the capacity to lead with easy-to-understand goals.
Make today the day you write out your own KPIs for each of these skills. Then, with the benchmark of where you are now, your areas of opportunity (i.e., improvement) can be your next project on the way to the top.
The following blog was written by guest author Alex Borzo, a content contributor at Amber Engine, a software company passionate about eCommerce. The company’s fast and simple PIM software gets sellers, distributors, and brands to Amazon and other online marketplaces in weeks instead of months and frees up time and resources to allow e-commerce and marketing professionals to create content that inspires modern discovery shoppers.