The Retail Merchant’s Guide to Hiring an eCommerce Manager — Part 1

Not a week goes by without me getting at least one email from a merchant asking if I know a good eCommerce Manager/Leader/Captain-of-the-Defeat-Amazon-Club (pick your title).

It’s no surprise, really — worldwide retail eCommerce sales are projected to reach more than $1.9 trillion this year — and lucky us: North America will reach $423 billion this year, making us the second largest regional eCommerce market.

As new businesses enter the eCommerce game daily, there’s a high demand for eCommerce Managers and an incredibly short supply of people who have actual experience managing these types of businesses.

When the competition is fierce, that means you need to really know how to broaden your search and look for the skills and characteristics that will indicate a person is potentially your next great eCommerce leader.

Where You At?

Before you figure out the skills and experiences your new hire is going to need, I think it’s important to understand where your business is, in terms of digital maturity, and build out a hiring plan based on that.

For example, if you are an older business that is new to eCommerce, the type of person you hire is very different from a business that’s already doing tens of millions in eCommerce sales. In this scenario, you need someone that can assemble all of the people, technology and processes needed to build the foundations of a good digital division instead of someone who is better suited for growing something that already exists.

Because the needs of a growing eCommerce business vs. an existing business creating their eCommerce division from almost zero are so different, I’m going to break down the skills and experience you should be looking for in either scenario, in this two-part article. 
For today, I’m going to write under the assumption that you likely aren’t hiring a really seasoned eCommerce exec but rather are looking to get someone in who can help take your business to the next level. After all, just because someone is seasoned in eCommerce on paper doesn’t mean they are right for your business. I’ve seen this approach fail…a lot.

Scenario A: Established Business with Growing eCommerce Hire from Diverse Backgrounds

For this type of merchant, I’d really want to focus on getting a seasoned person that comes from a couple different backgrounds.

Namely, I’d look for great digital marketing leaders or technology product managers that have also got some experience working in retail either as a young adult or early in their career.

I add in that last bit about retail not because it’s necessary from a skills perspective, but rather that I find people who have spent time in a retail store have the context required to build a digital retail business.

They’ll be more likely to think about how every decision they make for your business impacts your customers, compared to someone who has never served a customer (the consumer kind) in their life.

Why these backgrounds?

I find that most merchants are naturally great at one thing but lacking in others — so you want to fill the gaps, whenever possible.

If I was going to hire an eCommerce Manager, I’d ask my team what they’re already great at (or hopefully, I’d already know this; otherwise, hiring isn’t my biggest problem). If you already have a really strong marketing machine but lack in technology and processes, that tells you who to look for. Same goes the other way around.

So what do you do once you identify the gaps?

GAP: Marketing Expertise

Let’s start with finding someone to fill the eCommerce Manager position with a stronger lean towards marketing expertise.

The reasoning behind looking at digital marketing leaders (i.e. managers, other leadership roles) is pretty obvious.

For most eCommerce businesses, marketing is the machine moving the business forward.

And when you are already an established eCommerce business, you likely have a more mature marketing machine. Further to that, you probably have a marketing machine that depends heavily on one or two main channels and you’re looking to expand that machine into other acquisition channels.

Getting a person who has managed digital marketing teams at an agency, for example, might not be a bad move if this is your mid-term priority as a business. These people are usually well versed enough in many different forms of digital marketing and can help you hire internal or external help to build additional competencies.

GAP: Technology, Systems & Processes

What about the technology product managers? Why are they a good fit as a potential eCommerce Manager?

Another common characteristic of more mature eCommerce businesses is that they have more complex technology stacks. While much of the content available online focuses on the major components like eCommerce Platforms, ERP and CRM systems, the average eCommerce business has dozens of systems all connected to one another.

This means that whomever you put in charge of your eCommerce business is likely going to need a really strong understanding of how disparate systems work together.

A strong technology stack is the body of your machine. It doesn’t matter how awesome the marketing is if the body can’t take the pressure. I see this particular gap in merchant organizations day in and day out, which usually makes for some really poor decision making.

What I want you to take away from this piece is the rationale behind hiring a great eCommerce manager — you’re not hiring just for specific eCommerce skills but rather to fill specific gaps in your business.

That’s how I’d approach it if I was a retail business with a growing eCommerce division, but what if you fall into the second scenario — you’re an existing business creating an eCommerce division?

Contact me if you have any questions or stay tuned for part two!

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