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With huge increases in online shopping in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — U.S. e-commerce was up 49% in April alone, according to data from software company Adobe — online shopping is shaping up to be an attractive space for retailers and brands looking for growth. And the brands that want to launch and then grow their e-commerce businesses will, of course, need an e-commerce manager.
At the same time, as more Americans work from home — that was 62% of U.S. workers in April by analytics company Gallup’s count — and as businesses recover from unexpected closures, there’s at least some chance those brands will be hiring a remote e-commerce manager.
Hiring experts don’t exactly agree when to hire for this role. Some say it should be the first hire to help spearhead the online business. Others say the e-commerce manager should come last in order to guide employees that are already in place.
Robb Allen, a direct-response copywriter, marketing consultant, and contributor to the magazine Foundr, however, noted every company is different and should base its hiring plans on its individual needs.
“For example, if you have a single-product store that sells $1,000+ items (like mattresses), your hiring plan will look different than a company that has 47 low-ticket SKUs (like many supplement companies do),” Allen wrote in a March 2020 article about how to hire an e-commerce team. “One business might prioritize digital marketing and media buyers to get more customers for the solo product, whereas the other might need to first hire shipping and supply chain leaders to manage the business’s complex logistics.”
Whatever your e-commerce business may be, there are some straightforward guidelines about who you should hire and why, whether this person is working remotely to start or for good.
For more on why e-commerce is on the rise:
In this article:
What Does an E-Commerce Manager Do?
What Skills Should an E-Commerce Manager Have?
How Do You Find an E-Commerce Manager?
How Do You Keep Your E-Commerce Manager Motivated?
The Perfect Hire
According to Allen, an e-commerce manager’s primary role is to oversee e-commerce operations, as well as to build out the team and, ideally, help the e-commerce business grow faster.
That means you need a Jack (or Jane) of all trades with experience in marketing, media buying, website design, and copywriting.
“Ideally, this person will have a wealth of experience in many different areas of online marketing, from website design to advertising so that they’re able to effectively hire and coach other team members to success,” Allen said.
In addition, Robert Pennings, customer success manager at e-commerce company Sana Commerce, noted an e-commerce manager should be someone who knows about e-commerce, clearly, but who is also constantly learning because “e-commerce is an ever-changing landscape.”
For reading on e-commerce predictions to watch:
There are a few key skills, however, you should look out for:
In a LinkedIn post about job descriptions, Jerry Bernhart, principal of executive recruitment firm Bernhart Associates Executive Search, recommends searching for candidates with knowledge of web technology and trends, as well as experience with web analytics. This will help the company analyze customer data to find new ways to engage customers.
“Suffice it to say that online marketing is more about analyzing test results and less about gut instinct,” Bernhart said in a separate post about e-commerce leaders. “In e-commerce, you can measure what works and what doesn’t, sometimes almost instantaneously. Your e-commerce candidate must be highly adept at crunching and interpreting data.”
Pennings agreed that monitoring and optimizing online sales results is one of the most important tasks on an e-commerce manager’s plate.
Bernhart also said you want an e-commerce manager with a track record of driving results. That means they need experience in both operational and project management and “a deep understanding of e-commerce metrics including conversion, AOV (average order value), traffic, shipping and so on,” he added.
Because e-commerce managers work with so many different departments, as well as suppliers and customers, they must have good communication skills.
“Like practically every other job in the realm of digital marketing, e-commerce is ostensibly a team sport,” Bernhart added in the leaders post. “E-commerce leaders interact with practically all major departments within the business. They also work with many different outside vendors. Cross-collaboration and interpersonal skills are a key part of the job.”
There is perhaps a no better way to illustrate this than with a few of their key responsibilities, which Penning highlighted: managing e-commerce team members, gathering support for e-commerce within the organization, collecting feedback from customers, managing marketing and PR communications, process changes and services, and managing agreements with e-commerce suppliers.
In addition, Bernhart noted the e-commerce lead also sometimes spearheads the evolution from legacy marketing to online commerce.
“In those environments, forging cross-functional relationships is mission-critical,” Bernhart added.
Another key role for the e-commerce manager is developing and executing an e-commerce strategy, Pennings said.
That, Bernhart added, is why this person should have a strategic mindset and be able to envision long-term opportunities.
“Being strategically adept is one of those attributes that comes only with experience,” Bernhart said. “It's what truly separates the major leaguers from the under-studies.”
In addition to the right skill set, there are a few pointers to help you whittle down a list of potential candidates.
This, Bernhart said, helps communicate exactly what you’re looking for.
In fact, he said to use precise phrases like “proven success in e-commerce” to tell candidates you want them to be able to back up their claims about experience.
“I don’t know any employer who doesn’t want candidates to be able to demonstrate a proven track record, yet many job descriptions don’t state it,” Bernhart said.
According to Bernhart, employers have a tendency to get carried away when listing requirements for the e-commerce manager position.
“Just remember that when you write a job description, try to devote less space to how an employee should spend his or her time and more of it addressing performance outcomes,” he said. “In fact, when I prep candidates for interviews, I always suggest that they ask the hiring manager this question: ‘What are the 3-5 key things this person needs to accomplish in order to be successful in this job?’”
In the interview, Bernhart recommends asking candidates to walk you through their experience managing multiple projects, including desktop and mobile website development, online merchandising, and launching new products, brand marketing, social media, and budgeting.
“The e-commerce manager needs to be able to describe the consumer's purchase path on the website and how to optimize that navigation,” he said. “Also, make sure they're well-schooled in cross-selling and upselling. Ask how they have tracked the performance of campaigns on various platforms and acted on those results to optimize consumer engagement and create differential brand experiences.”
According to Allen, you should in fact be very picky with the e-commerce manager hire “because making a mistake with this person can set you back a year due to bad leadership or going about tackling goals the wrong way.”
Finding the right hire, however, can boost growth by many months.
“We recommend saving this hire until later because in the beginning, you just need more hands in the ring,” he added. “But later, you’ll need people to guide the team.”
Once you’ve made this key hire, there are additional tactics you can use to keep him or her motivated.
Per e-commerce platform Shopify, that includes investing in employees through ongoing education programs, which not only help ensure your staff is well-trained, they also show them you care about their growth. In turn, this helps employees feel valued and even increases efficiency. And, as employees grow, another way to invest is by promoting from within as new positions open up.
You can also consider rewards as a means to incentivize employees. Shopify noted they can be big — like a bonus — or small, such as lunch or coffee. A motivating award could also be something like an Employee of the Month program, which recognizes employees who surpass their performance goals.
And, of course, reviews are another good way to set expectations for anyone on staff. Shopify said managers should schedule check-ins on a regular basis in order to track progress.
“Regular performance reviews in the form of one-on-one meetings with management are a great way to hear what your employees like about your incentive programs, what they think is working, and what they’d improve,” Shopify said. “Encourage management to meet with each direct report once a month for a formal meeting and be available for more impromptu discussions throughout the week to address any issues that arise.
For tips on how to keep your team motivated during WFH:
As e-commerce grows, so will demand for e-commerce managers to oversee operations and shepherd growth. While the right e-commerce manager will vary depending on individual business needs, most e-commerce managers should have a range of experience, including marketing. They’re also adept at using technology, communicating and envisioning the future. By being clear in your job description about what you’re looking for and then asking the right questions of candidates — including specifics about their experience — you can find the perfect e-commerce manager for your business.
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Originally published on July 10th, 2020, last updated on July 12th, 2022.