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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? : It’s easy to claim you’re an e-Commerce expert, but much harder to prove it. It’s still a relatively new skill. This week, we share the key skills that real e-Commerce experts bring. And we share the red flags that suggest your e-Commerce expert may not know what they’re doing. Read on to see how your e-Commerce expert shapes up. 

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. And department stores 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.

There’s a lot of learnings which drives 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 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 freshly laid pile of dung. 

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 each of the different online retail channels. The right IT skills to set up your e-Commerce martech systems.

Heck, even how to set up your own online store.

How to get more sales online - detailed product page checklist

Combine e-Commerce lessons together

But if you study e-Commerce as an overall area of learning like we do, these are isolated, not integrated lessons.

On their own, they teach you helpful tips and tricks. But, unless you can integrate these lessons 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, you have many people who 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. Someones who can give you the best advice that’ll grow your online sales. 

What to look for in an e-Commerce expert?

We’re not being boastful 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 on-going 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 frankly 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.

It doesn’t matter if your e-Commerce expert is at an agency, you’re hiring one for your business, or you just want to build your own expertise. E-Commerce experts :-

  • start with the online shopper. 
  • connect e-Commerce activities together.
  • make things happen.

E-Commerce experts start with the online shopper

The essence of e-Commerce is you’re there to provide a specific product or service to a specific customer. You want them to choose your brand over any other options.

This is marketing.

E-commerce might come with extra technological bells and whistles compared to the traditional view of marketing. But, the underlying principle is exactly the same

E-Commerce experts are great at marketing. They have brand expertise and love to use it. And that means, an e-Commerce expert always starts with customer needs. They seek to understand the online shopper. They can’t and won’t do anything, until they know what the online shopper actually 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. 

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

And 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 bring the customer to life, and how they make sure every part of the online shopping experience focusses on what the customer wants. 

E-Commerce experts connect e-Commerce activities together

We’ve shared before that to work in digital areas, you need to be a bit of a digital decathlete. You need to be an all-rounder who understands the different elements of digital, and how they connect. 

Well, e-Commerce takes this need to connect all the dots to another level. Digital marketers can mostly get by with a focus on digital media and websites, so they can essentially be doing a digital bi-athlon.

E-Commerce is like a separate business

But, for e-Commerce, there’s so much more to manage. 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. E-Commerce experts know how to connect these together to create a single cohesive experience for the online shopper. 

A true e-Commerce expert knows they need to understand all these elements. They know how to make them work together. 

It’s no good being a search and social expert, if you’ve no idea how delivery options 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. 

And 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 others, is that e-Commerce experts spend 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 what it said it would). 

They regularly test new advertising and sales promotions 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

Obviously, 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 spend time researching, discussing and creating experiences for customers. Not an e-Commerce expert. 

Anyone who only covers specific elements of the e-Commerce mix, but can’t acknowledge how all the different elements need to connect together. May be an expert in their specific area. But, they’re not an e-Commerce expert. 

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

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

And obviously, 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 truly makes a good e-Commerce expert 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 contact us directly, 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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