The Retail Merchant’s Guide to Hiring an eCommerce Manager

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). When it comes to hiring an eCommerce manager, merchants are really struggling.

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.

You need a rockstar eCommerce Manager / Director for your high-performing store! Build your team today – start by downloading my free Ultimate Hiring Guide for Your eCommerce Business with 50+ eComm Job Descriptions. Click below:





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Hiring an eCommerce Manager – 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

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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

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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?

You don’t sell a product or its many great features that you think your consumers want you to go on and on about. You sell a solution to a problem – you do something that makes someone else’s life better or easier.

It’s the same logic you should apply to hiring an eCommerce Manager.

If you want to find the right person for your team, you need to focus not just on the skills someone brings but the gaps they fill – the problems they solve in your organization.

Let’s take a look at the traits you’d look for in an eCommerce Manager if you were a business who is trying to create a new eCommerce division.

Scenario B: Existing Business Creating an eCommerce Division

 

For these merchants, I really recommend getting someone who is 75% hustle and 25% leader. I don’t like seeing this kind of merchant hire super experienced people because those people usually want to manage teams of “do’ers” under them rather than get into the weeds themselves.

The same rules for finding people from marketing or product management backgrounds apply to this type of merchant. You can still look for the person who best fills gaps in your current team, even if that team is just you the entrepreneur (also known as your business’s accountant, sales rep, webmaster, email marketer, customer service guru…the list goes on. We wear lots of hats, especially as we’re growing).

Choose a Tech Background

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For this type of business, I’d choose someone with a strong technology background, rather than a marketing or some other background.

My reason for this is simple: Most retailers, brands and wholesalers who have existing businesses are probably pretty strong in product knowledge for their industry and probably somewhat competent in marketing so they have some history to lean on when launching digital.

So really, these merchants need to bring someone in who will quickly make sense of the company’s existing (legacy) systems and make sound roadmap-driven decisions on what new people, technology and processes are needed to bring the business into the digital age.

I have actually seen some merchants do very well by hiring former software engineers with a strong set of soft skills – and they’ll be pros at building the right technology stack for your business.

If you happen to be the kind of merchant who is really strong in technology and is process-heavy, then maybe someone with a digital marketing background is a better fit. However, in all my years in this industry, I haven’t met too many merchants that can lay claim to being very strong in tech.

At this point, you might be asking yourself, why would I focus on technology when many platforms are getting easier to implement and use (i.e. Shopify is crazy easy to set up)?

Since you aren’t a technology-first business, let me try and answer that question so that you can see why hiring someone with a strong tech background is important.

The Democratization of Technology

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While I do agree that technology is democratizing very quickly, this same democratization is leading to a large degree of fragmentation in the landscape. This ultimately means that while the individual component technologies are getting easier and easier to implement and use, the sheer quantity of the components is making things more complex.

As you set out to build your eCommerce division, you likely have the further complication of legacy technology, which, to put it bluntly, is debt weighing down your organization.

In other words, you want someone with a strong technology background because you aren’t starting from scratch with brand new people, technology and processes. You have an existing business that your eCommerce division needs to sit on top of and work with/within. I can’t emphasize how difficult this really is.

Hiring an eCommerce Manager in Summary

The bad news (kind of): You likely aren’t going to find a really experienced eCommerce leader that will have the perfect skill set balance of technology, merchandise and marketing.

But here comes the good news: If you accept this reality, then the guidelines in this article can help you find the right person for the specific need you’re looking for, based on the particular stage you’re at in your eCommerce journey.