How to navigate a career in the fast-changing world of eCommerce
In today’s world eCommerce is a strategic focus for even the most antiquated of FMCG organisations and how to get most out of it is the question on everyone’s lips.
The projections vary (wildly at times) but what is not in doubt is that online sales are only going one way, and as such the demand for talent able to drive that growth is substantial.
Historically businesses have underestimated its impact and hence underinvested in developing talent to be future leaders in eCom. This short sightedness should have you licking your lips if you want to pursue a career in it. Even in the last 12 months there’s been a proliferation of restructures and newly created roles – the appetite from companies is most definitely there but the talent to feed it is not, so there’s a lack of competition and a wealth of opportunity for candidates.
There’s a huge opportunity for eCommerce enthusiasts to fast-track their career and the pace of development means that the scope to learn new skills and be exposed to new technology is far ahead of the more established areas we typically recruit for. It’s an area tailor made for curious, inquisitive folk with a thirst for knowledge.
Where do these roles report?!
Sales? Marketing? Neither? Both?
Increasingly, there is no clear answer. In the early days responsibility was generally dished out among multiple functions as ‘online’ was tagged on to the job descriptions of people who had previously focused on other channels. The beginning of Online NAM’s, Category Managers & Shopper Marketing Managers was here.
Whilst that structure is still reasonably common, the creation of dedicated eCommerce & Digital teams has led to a more matrix-led approach, sitting somewhere between Sales & Marketing and often describing themselves as ‘internal consultants’ across the business.
As such, as an eCommerce Manager you might need to be just as comfortable negotiating trading terms with Online Buyers as you are understanding the role PPC plays in improving path to purchase. The days of simply being an ‘Amazon NAM’ are numbered and expecting to transfer ‘bricks & mortar’ experience into ‘bricks & clicks’ is unrealistic.
Jack of all trades, master of none
The above being said, a generalist approach is perhaps best suited to SME’s / those with relatively new eCommerce functions, although it’s unlikely to be the long-term solution. As the nuances of what it takes to get people to buy online become better understood, the creation of more specialist positions will proliferate.
At the developed end of the market you already see companies taking a more sophisticated, specialist approach to structuring their teams with the understanding that eCommerce is not just a commercial undertaking but the culmination of every touchpoint that results in a sale online. The same approach is likely to filter down & become commonplace in the market as time progresses.
One example I’d expect to see is more direct-to-consumer specific roles created over the next 12-24 months and businesses leading the way in areas such as this are already nurturing the best niche talent. (I’m looking at you, Unilever).
Knowledge is power
If the above leaves you scratching your head as to what you should focus on to progress your career in eCommerce, there are a couple of key points to consider depending on your experience.
Working in FMCG with some previous eCom exposure but not the sole focus of past roles
Think about moving into a broad, generalist position. This could be with your current business if the structure exists to facilitate it, or externally. Learn as much as you can from multiple areas, soak it all up and start to form a picture of what you enjoy the most. You might want to remain in a broad role and there’ll continue to be no shortage of demand for that, but equally if you find an area you love then specialising will pay dividends.
You’ve got eCom experience outside of FMCG and want to get into the industry
Your best bet here may well be to play to your niche skill set - figure out what you know that most people in FMCG don’t and find a company who, if not already there, are moving towards specialisation. If you’re keen to broaden your experience then once inside make this clear and find out the best way to move internally further down the line.
In so many areas of FMCG the closed-mindedness when hiring outside of the industry means businesses shut themselves off to talent but, when it comes to eCommerce, skills can outweigh market or category-specific knowledge, meaning it can be a great way in for people wanting to break into FMCG.
Working in FMCG with zero eCom experience
This is where it’s down to your willingness to learn. If your company doesn’t have the structure in place to give you the experience you want then start developing it elsewhere - go to events, be on top of the latest developments, get to know the online buyers at the retailers you work with or eCom teams at competitors.
Become so knowledgeable that eventually people see your talent as wasted anywhere else. You’ll either impress so much at interview that your lack of experience won’t be an obstacle, or your knowledge and enthusiasm will be recognised internally and allow you to make the case for creating/shaping a role just for you.
Know about the Cambridge University work on Hero Imagery? Got some thoughts on the INS Ecosystem? Lack of experience can be made up for by giving your 2 cents/bitcoin on the latest developments in the market.
eCommerce is a continually growing and changing sector and if eCom is your passion, now is a perfect time to push forward in this market.
Associate Director – eCommerce, Digital, Marketing & Sales
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