The Executive Dilemma: How Consumer Brands Can Approach the Challenges of E-Commerce

Executives know they need to capitalize on growth opportunities in the e-commerce space but often find that costs and complexity are higher than expected and progress is slow or stagnant.


If one were to ask a dozen consumer brand executives what keeps them up at night, I think the first thing most of them would list is keeping pace with the rapid shifts in online commerce.

The sentiment is understandable and universal. The pandemic upended retail and accelerated e-commerce over the past two years in ways we never predicted. McKinsey estimates that consumer demand for online shopping vaulted ahead 10 years during just the first three months of the pandemic, and that growth has been sustained. S&P Global predicted e-commerce sales will maintain their pandemic-fueled highs into 2022.

Faced with challenges like new competitors, rising customer expectations and lower profit margins, consumer brands have no choice but to invest in e-commerce channels to command their share of an exploding global market.

As the co-founder of an e-commerce company, I know that the task is herculean for any brand: managing dozens (or hundreds) of digital channels and marketplaces while tackling distribution, advertisement, creative teams, pricing and fulfillment.

Jumping into the global online market presents consumer brands with what I like to call "the executive dilemma." Executives know they need to capitalize on growth opportunities in the e-commerce space but often find that costs and complexity are higher than expected and progress is slow or stagnant. Fair or not, the blame often lands on the e-commerce team. But e-commerce teams are better than executives tend to think. While capable, they often aren't resourced to successfully take on the task of helping a brand scale in so many places at once.

The Executive Dilemma

Imagine the crushing weight placed on e-commerce teams. In a given region, they have been tasked with getting products onto every online marketplace relevant to their business, keeping listings fresh and optimized for conversion, creating and managing direct-to-consumer sites and relationships with e-tailers and other digital channels, and guiding advertising for all of these channels along with distribution and fulfillment.

To do this, e-commerce teams often stitch together a MacGyvered set of agencies, partners and software stacks that weren't designed to work together. All this is just to execute a strategy for one region. Imagine trying to tackle 100 regions along with all the cultural and logistical gaps that make scaling globally difficult to impossible for brands.

Many e-commerce teams are not equipped to compete with multi-billion-dollar brands and agencies. Smaller brands often have e-commerce teams with four or five employees. At more prominent brands, I've found it's rare to see more than 10 people on an e-commerce team. Even giant corporations with numerous divisions have small groups overseeing individual brands. And, while size matters here, even large teams are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with brands that are leveraging sophisticated data science and technology to gain an edge. In this scenario, you'd need an army.

To succeed online, focus on the e-commerce equation: revenue = traffic x conversion x price. Each part of the equation is essential to achieving growth, and you probably need more than three or four people on your e-commerce team to do it right.

Solving the equation involves harnessing the power of influencers, data science, social media platforms, e-commerce acceleration technology, marketing, advertising, creative teams, search engine optimization (SEO), online marketplaces, live chat, price control, shipping logistics and more.

Succeeding takes time and resources, which smaller teams typically lack. Driving traffic to your direct-to-consumer site alone can take 20 people. In short, solving the executive dilemma requires more of the right resources to unlock your e-commerce team's potential.

Your E-Commerce Team's Potential

Given these challenges, it's unsurprising that CEOs assume their small teams aren't good enough to compete at scale. E-commerce teams can be some of the most overworked, and executives often undervalue them.

But the problem isn't usually talent or effort. No matter how talented, a team without the right resources cannot manage it all. These teams take on myriad responsibilities, and with so few members, it can be challenging to get everything accomplished.

When presented with this challenge, e-commerce teams sometimes shrink their scope so they can be successful, especially when they are experts in a particular aspect of e-commerce. A group may be proficient at Facebook marketing, and to capitalize on that competency, they built the entire brand around it. However, marketing on any social media platform only serves one part of the e-commerce equation: driving traffic to your site.

While many teams understand direct-to-consumer channels, marketplaces are different and more challenging. Each marketplace has its own rules, and it helps to have team members who understand the nuances and intricacies.

The bottom line is your e-commerce team is good at what you hired them to do, but they cannot do everything.

Take the Ego Out of the Team

Don't try to hire an "e-commerce expert" because there is no such thing. Instead, put all team members on a level playing field.

The e-commerce teams of the future will need to be full of nimble project managers and technology experts.

Technical experts can ensure your brand is making use of the latest e-commerce trends and technologies. Project managers can organize and motivate the team to meet established deadlines, maintain quality standards and complete work within the allocated budget.

Under this model, I predict that brands will see far more success. If you hired one of the best project managers for your e-commerce team, and they are someone who knows how to leverage the right technology, even if they're not "e-commerce experts," I believe your team will thrive.

Solving the Dilemma

Online commerce is exploding. Many executives would agree that they could use a little more sleep at night, and they'd sleep better if they knew they were in a position to take advantage of the constant shifts in e-commerce.

It's intimidating, but once executives understand the complexity of the digital world and the competencies and resourcing needed to succeed, they can ensure their great e-commerce teams are set up with the right resourcing to tackle the task at hand.

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