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How to tell how good your e-Commerce expert actually is

Person holding a mobile phone with an e-Commerce page on screen and a credit card in the other hand

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Why read this? : We share the 3 key skills to look for in an e-Commerce expert. Plus, the red flags that suggest someone’s e-Commerce expertise is not what they say it is. Read this to learn how to tell how good your e-Commerce expert actually is.

E-Commerce is still a relatively new field of study. Even the biggest players like Amazon are only just over 25 years old.

To give that some context, that means Amazon is younger than celebrities like Ariana Grande and most of One Direction.

Amazon didn’t exist when the original Jurassic Park movie came out. 

Compare that to traditional retailing

Amazon logo on phone

There, you have well-established concepts like shopping malls, which date back to the 1950s. Department stores which date back to the 19th century. Heck, the concept of marketplaces goes all the way back to Ancient Greece.

So, 25 years of e-Commerce in that context isn’t really very long. It’s still a baby in retailing terms. 

Traditional retailing is much more mature than e-Commerce in terms of learning and study.

There’s been a lot of time to work out what works. And of course, what doesn’t. 

Ideas and concepts have evolved, so that traditional retail execution is now usually finely crafted.

Many learnings drive how traditional retail works. These have been proven over and over again. 

Supermarket central aisle with lots of displays and signage on view

Fresh food at the front of the grocery store. End-of-aisle displays and eye-level shelf ranges for the biggest sellers. Highly visible sales promotions at key times of the year. 

Traditional retailing is a fully formed area of learning, with clear and well-established best practices. 

And then, there’s e-Commerce.

E-Commerce expertise lacks depth and quality

Compared to traditional retail, e-Commerce doesn’t yet have that same depth and quality of expertise. And yet, there are plenty of people who call themselves e-Commerce experts.

Start researching e-Commerce, and watch their ads pop up on your Facebook feed. Like flies attracted to a pile of freshly laid sh*t. 

But ignore these social media stalkers for now. You can research e-Commerce, and find data and learnings about general good practices

How to best set up a product page, for example. The pros and cons of the different online retail channels. The right IT skills to set up your e-Commerce martech and supply chain systems. Even how to set up your own online store.

How to get more sales online - detailed product page checklist

Combining e-Commerce lessons

But looking at e-Commerce as an overall topic, these are isolated lessons. They don’t always hang together. 

On their own, they teach you helpful tips and tricks. But, unless you can pull them together, they’re tactics, not strategy-forming ideas. They don’t make you an e-Commerce expert. In the same way, you wouldn’t learn one recipe, and assume you’re an expert chef.

And yet, it seems with e-Commerce, many people learn 1 or 2 e-Commerce “recipes”, and then call themselves an e-Commerce expert. 

That’s dodgy at best. And dangerous at worst, for businesses who end up following their bad advice. So, we wanted to share our view on how you spot a genuine e-Commerce expert. Someone who can give you the best advice on delivering e-Commerce growth

What to look for in an e-Commerce expert?

We’re not boasting when we say we know a lot about e-Commerce. We’ve been at the coalface of e-Commerce for many years. It’s an ongoing subject we continue to learn about every day. So, we talk with experience about what it takes to be an e-Commerce expert. 

That’s not to say, we know everything. Because that’s the big secret. Nobody knows everything about e-Commerce. Anyone who claims they do is an arrogant idiot. Real experts know there’s always more to learn. 

We have experience and learning in setting up online stores and working with online retailers. That means we’ve seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t. And, we’ve had a lot of time to process that learning and put it into practice.

So, we’ve turned that into 3 key principles of what makes someone an e-Commerce expert. That could be someone at an agency, someone you want to hire or just to judge your own level of expertise.

E-Commerce experts :-

  • start with the online shopper. 
  • connect e-Commerce activities.
  • make things happen.
Hand holding a VISA card in front of a laptop

E-Commerce experts start with the online shopper

The essence of e-Commerce is providing a specific product or service to specific customers. You want them to buy your brand and not competitor brands. This is marketing.

E-commerce might have extra technological bells and whistles versus traditional marketing. But, the underlying principle is exactly the same

A genuine e-Commerce expert always starts with understanding the customer. They won’t do anything until they’re clear on what the online shopper wants

Go crazy for market research and data

So, an e-Commerce expert should go crazy for market research, and any marketing data they can get their hands on. They’ll want to experiment to find out what customers want. To build e-Commerce insights

They’ll happily create customer profiles to help define the customer experience.

They start every brief with a focus on what they can do for the customer. 

Now, does that mean all marketers are e-Commerce experts? No.

Or, if you don’t have experience in marketing, you can’t be an e-Commerce expert? That’s a no, too. 

We know loads of marketers who don’t really get the e-Commerce opportunity.

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

Plus, we know lots of people who don’t come from marketing backgrounds but absolutely do get that what customers want is the key to selling online

So, ask your e-Commerce expert to talk about customers. Check they ask for your market research, and plan ways to do more. They must be eager to find out what online shoppers want.

Ask them how they find insights. How they bring the customer to life. And how they make sure every part of the online shopping experience focuses on what the customer wants. 

E-Commerce experts connect e-Commerce activities

We’ve shared before the importance of being a digital decathlete. You have to be an all-rounder who understands how to connect the different areas of digital. 

Well, e-Commerce takes this connecting the dots to another level. Digital marketers can mostly get by with digital media and websites as if doing a digital biathlon.

E-Commerce is like a separate business

But, there’s much more involved in e-Commerce. An online store is a 24-7 living breathing business system which connects payment, delivery and customer service systems.

It’s different from traditional business models. 

You need to know brand strategy and website design. You need to know the ins and outs of online business models and the IT skills to set up order to delivery systems and process orders. E-Commerce experts know how to connect these to create a single cohesive experience for the online shopper. 

A true e-Commerce expert knows they have to understand how all these elements work together.

It’s no good being a search and social expert if you’ve no idea how supply chains work, or why the last mile’s so important, for example. 

You could create the world’s nicest-looking online store website. But if your business model sucks, you’ll never be successful. 

As we said, if you don’t understand what the customer actually wants and needs, and apply that at each stage of the e-Commerce planning process, then you’re clearly not an e-Commerce expert. 

Rope - system

No, you can tell a good e-Commerce expert by how easily and effortlessly they switch between these different business skills.  A true e-Commerce expert gives you confidence they know how to make the online shopping experience seamless, efficient and profitable. 

E-Commerce experts make things happen

And finally, the one thing we’d put above all else, is that an e-Commerce expert spends more time doing e-Commerce than talking about it. 

Never underestimate the value of people who get shit done. The real nuts and bolts of selling online are actions, actions and more actions. 

E-Commerce experts spend time making sure all the basics are right. The images, the copy, the product descriptions, all the basics of good product pages. They make sure the store does what it says it will. (See our e-Commerce lessons from 2020 article for an example of a store which didn’t do this). 

They regularly test new advertising and sales promotion ideas. They analyse the results quickly and use them to continuously improve the shopper’s e-Commerce journey

E-Commerce experts build their knowledge about online shoppers. They use that to create better shopping experiences. They learn what works. What doesn’t. And, they keep making improvements and trying new things out. They focus on meeting the customer’s needs. That’s where e-Commerce growth comes from. 

Spotting a “fake” e-Commerce expert

If your e-Commerce expert is the opposite of any of these things, sorry. But they’re probably not an e-Commerce expert. 

Anyone who doesn’t research, discuss and create experiences for customers. Not an e-Commerce expert. 

Anyone who only covers specific elements of the e-Commerce mix, but ignores how all the elements have to connect. Maybe an expert in their area. But, they’re not an e-Commerce expert. 

And finally, the ones who spend more time talking than doing are the worst. You should avoid the consultants and advisers who haven’t spent time at the coalface of online shopping, and who can’t describe the nuts and bolts of how it works. 

You know them. They present at conferences, with generic slides with a big abstract image, and one giant font-sized word like “customer” or “sell”. They’ll throw in the latest jargon and abbreviations – growth hacking CX, UX – but, can’t properly explain what they are when you ask. 

Worst of all, they’ll pop on your Facebook feed. Because yep, you’ve started researching what an e-Commerce expert actually looks like, and the stalker algorithm will start following you.  

Conclusion - E-Commerce expertise

In some ways, e-Commerce seems like an “easy” topic. With marketplace sites like Etsy and Gumtree, and Print on Demand sites like Redbubble and Spreadshirt you can start “selling” right away. 

With sites like Shopify or WooCommerce, you can set up your own online store without a lot of IT skills. But, knowing these things doesn’t make you an e-Commerce expert.

It’s that mix of customer understandingconnecting all the activities, and above all, making things happen, that makes a good e-Commerce expert truly stand out from the rest.

Screengrab of Three-brains Shop - headline says "merchandise to raise your game"

Check out our many e-Commerce expert guides to learn more. Or email us, if there’s a specific e-Commerce challenge we can help you with.  

Photo Credits

Online shopping with phone and credit card : Photo by PhotoMIX Company from Pexels

Amazon on phone : Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Supermarket : Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Visa card and laptop : Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

Rope : Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

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