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Eight ways to build a great e-Commerce culture

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Why read this? : The way you set up your e-Commerce culture defines how your online business does things. We share 8 different ways to make it work better. Learn about key areas like people and leadership, the work environment and your systems and processes. Read this to learn what yoy need to build a great e-Commerce culture. 

If e-Commerce was easy, every online seller would be a millionaire. Clearly, that’s not the case though.

In our how to get more sales online guide, we share examples of the practical skills which help you grow online sales. For example :-

The word HOW written out images of a lighthouse for each letter

It’s not hard to work out what you need in e-Commerce. But how you make those things happen is often not as clear. 

That’s where culture comes in. In businesses, culture’s how things get done. So in this article, we review what culture means for e-Commerce.

Culture - How things get done

How you do things has as much impact as what you do. How you do things includes lots of people-related activities. Who you hire for example. How you organise, reward and lead people. 

It includes the values and behaviours you promote. And how you set up the work environment, standards and systems in your business. 

Get the e-Commerce culture right, and you :-

  • make better decisions.
  • have happier customers and employees.
  • drive more online sales. 

Get your e-Commerce culture wrong though, and you :-

  • make bad decisions
  • have unhappy customers and employees
  • lose online sales. 

Getting it wrong creates barriers to e-Commerce, rather than opportunities. 

So what’s the difference between an e-Commerce culture that’s great, and an e-Commerce culture where everything just grates? 

8 culture factors

8 factors make up your culture.

It starts with the people in your team, and how you organise, motivate, reward and lead them. 

From there, you then move on to set up and manage the work environment, your standards and policies, and your systems and resources

These factors all connect. Changes in one area usually impact the other areas. 

You work through each one by one. How they fit is what makes up your overall culture. 

Diagram with culture written in the centre and eight spokes - people, organisation, values, reward, leadership, environment, standards and policies, systems and resources

People

Actions don’t happen on their own. Someone needs to do something. That someone might be you on your own, or a team of internal and agency people you’ve put together.

But nothing happens without people

For e-Commerce, you need people with the right technical skills (like market research, brand development and customer experience as we already mentioned), but also other functional experts like operations, supply chain and finance. 

Five people's hands side by side on a wooden table

You need to plan how those different functions will work together to deliver your e-Commerce goal. That plan’s a key part of your e-Commerce culture.

Your e-Commerce goal is usually about customers. Get more. Keep more. Get them to buy more. You need people who understand customers. Who know how to build relationships with them. 

Factor this into how you recruit people. Your e-Commerce culture shapes the type of person you want. It’s not just about technical skills, but the way they think about customers. The way they come up with ideas to meet their needs. It’s easier to have an e-Commerce business where everyone can be creative, if it’s part of your culture. 

Factor this into how you train people. Use your e-Commerce culture to motivate and inspire teams to focus on customer needs and come up with creative ideas to meet those needs. 

Next, you need to work out how all the different people are going to work together. As per our e-Commerce knowledge article, the better the team-set up, the better the results they’ll deliver. 

(see also our e-Commerce lessons from 2020 article for more on the importance of people). 

Organisation

There are many different ways to organise e-Commerce teams. It often depends on your online business model. 

Your team organisation will be very different if you only sell through online retailers for example, compared to if you manage your own online store.

It’ll be different if you run a marketplace or print on demand business. In those channels, you outsource much of the order to delivery process so you don’t need people to manage those processes yourself. 

To organise your team, first map out all the stages of the customer’s e-Commerce journey. Then work out the tasks that need to happen. Assign people and teams to be accountable for those tasks. 

Make sure that accountable person or team has the authority and autonomy to do each tasks. The task should improve the customer experience. Set out a clear decision-making process. 

Clearly identify an overall e-Commerce leader (more on leadership shortly). They need to set the direction, resolve issues and take a more holistic view.

In the team, you’ll have diverse personality styles. On the plus side, this adds diverse thinking and energy. But the e-Commerce leader also needs to find a way to make those diverse styles work together as a team.

e-commerce planning process - 5 key steps in e-commerce experience

E-Commerce personality styles

Each different e-Commerce personality style adds a different strength to your e-Commerce efforts.

Learn how to combine these strengths, and overall, you have a much stronger and better performing e-Commerce team.

You get the drive and focus on getting things done from Extrovert Thinker types for example.

You get the sociability and enthusiasm of Extrovert Feeler types. 

The three monkeys of e-Commerce - Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil to highlight e-Commerce personality types

Introvert Thinkers give you deep logical and analytical thinking that leads to smarter decisions.

And of course you also need the empathy and care for others that Introvert Feelers bring.

Your team is stronger when different skills and styles work together effectively. You have a collaborative e-Commerce culture where everyone knows what their role is, and what others bring to the team.

(see also our article about the book Alchemy by Rory Sutherland, which talks about the value of having both logical and illogical thinking in your business).  

Values

The values you define for your business make clear how you expect your team to approach the work they do. 

Your values define what you believe’s important, and how you expect people to act. They’re part of your brand identity.

Your e-Commerce culture asks people to understand and act on these values.

For example, with values like friendliness and empathy, you prioritise listening to customers. 

White round badge with a read heart symbol against a dark grey background

Values like attention to detail and expertise mean you prioritise giving the best advice.

And with values like speed and efficiency, you prioritise prompt responses to customer service enquiries.

Work out how you’ll bring these values to life. Apply them to your content tone of voice for example. Bring them to life with symbols or icons that make them easy to understand and meaningful. 

Look at values in your brand identity. Make sure your team understand them, support them, and feel motivated and inspired to deliver them. 

Rewards

Motivation and inspiration often come from how you reward people. 

This can be simple and extrinsic rewards like salary and bonuses. Or it can be more complex and intrinsic rewards like recognising their contribution, enabling them to master more interesting skills, and giving them autonomy to control how they work. 

Reward the behaviours you want to promote.

Reward your team for finding new online shopper insights for example.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

Make it rewarding for customer service teams to fix issues when problems come up. Highlight positive comments and feedback from satisfied customers when your team have helped them. Feeling appreciated for a job well done motivates many people. 

Look at who’s involved at each stage of the customer experience. Reward them for what they do to make customers happier. 

That could be any part of the customer journey. From great advertising from your marketing agency that pulls in new customers to your supply chain team efficiently managing the last mile of the delivery.

The right rewards help people feel what they’re doing has a purpose rather than being purely transactional. 

It’s usually down to the leadership team to define and communicate this purpose.

Leadership

The leadership team might be one person or a committee of different functional managers.

But either way, leaders are accountable for making the overall business work. That includes the e-Commerce culture. 

Leaders need to hire and train the right people, and define the organisation, values and rewards that support a great e-Commerce culture.

They also need to be role models for the values and behaviours you expect.

Hand holding old fashioned looking compass

Leadership is responsible for demonstrating the expected values and behaviours.

For example, they need to make sure everyone celebrates wins. They need to call out great performance. They need to look for and highlight customer stories.

Leadership needs to encourage e-Commerce teams to create better shopping experiences. They need to encourage teams to learn new skills, and give them the autonomy to make decisions that remove customer pain points. 

Whoever leads needs to make clear who’s accountable for which decisions. This is particularly important for solving customer problems and testing out new ways to improve the customer experience.

Test and learn

E-Commerce technology lets you put ideas and concepts in front of customers quickly and cheaply. The leadership team needs to make clear that this test and learn approach is the way they want the business to work. 

It can be quite a cultural shift to make decisions based on immediate customer feedback rather than internal preferences and politics.

It makes it OK that some marketing mistakes will happen, because you learn the most from those.

Two men holding pencils comparing notes on a piece of paper in in front of macbooks

The leadership team sets the long-term direction for the business, so everyone’s clear on the goal. But they also need to be flexible and agile to take advantage of short-term opportunities.

Every change in the customer experience, every advert or social media post and every sales promotion is a way to learn more about the customer. It’s a way to make those experiences even better the next time. 

The leadership team should empower customer service to fix problems for customers quickly. No slow processes or focus on cost savings. Keeping customers happy and loyal drives long-term success.

Environment

There are also more tangible factors which affect your e-Commerce culture, like your team’s working environment.

Where you actually run your business for example. This could include offices, warehouses and delivery trucks. These are all part of your e-Commerce culture because the environment reminds people how to do things. 

Is your business all in one place, or does it run from multiple locations? 

Interior of a warehouse showing high shelving and main aisle

Are marketing and customer service located where products are stored, packed and dispatched?

Clearly, most of your customer interactions take place online with e-Commerce, but what about your internal team interactions? If these take place online, how do you set up those systems to make them both secure (e.g. in terms of privacy), but also easy to access and use by relevant teams?

Consistency

You need to consider the style and tone of your internal communications. Is it consistent with the style and tone of your external communications and your brand identity. Your e-Commerce culture is stronger when there’s a consistent approach to how you interact with people, both internally and externally

With physical premises, think about the visual symbols that’ll help bring your values and culture to life. 

These might be as basic as logos around the building, but they can also be more clever like Amazon’s famous empty chair for the customer. (see our article on customer feedback for more on this). 

If your product is complex, or needs demonstrations, make it easy for your team to access samples. It helps to physically have the product in front of you if you’re talking about it with a customer. 

Standards and policies

Your e-Commerce culture also comes across in the standards and policies that drive your business. 

So for example, the way you manage customer refunds and returns.

Some businesses choose to make this hard for customers, while others (like the online fashion business for example) make it super easy. 

That’s a choice of how you do things, so it’s another part of your e-Commerce culture. 

Small metal statue of lady of justice holding scales

It could be how quickly you process an order. How long before it gets delivered. If you offer the option to customise or only offer a more standardised approach. These choices help define your e-Commerce culture because they’re all part of how you do things.

Systems and resources

Finally, you need to consider the systems and resources that support your day-to-day e-Commerce business. 

Systems like your website testing, your product information management system and your customer service systems all help your e-Commerce business run efficiently.

They’re the engine of your e-Commerce.

But you need to invest resources budget, time and people – to build and run those systems. 

Man filling up his car with petrol at a petrol station

Resources are the fuel that drives your e-Commerce engine.

Your e-Commerce culture helps you identify the resources you need to fuel your business, and the systems that make it all run smoothly.

Set up these systems and resources in the right way, and it makes it easier for your team to focus on how they keep customers happy. That’s the end result of a great e-Commerce culture.

Conclusion - E-Commerce Culture

In a recent article we talked about how culture can drive breakthrough ideas. For most businesses, e-Commerce is one of those breakthrough ideas. 

Technical skills drive what you do in e-Commerce, but e-Commerce culture drives how you do them. 

The people you hire and train need to be organised so they’re united around a common goal – meeting the needs of the customer. 

The values of the business and how you reward people need to work together to  motivate and inspire your team. 

Diagram with culture written in the centre and eight spokes - people, organisation, values, reward, leadership, environment, standards and policies, systems and resources

Strong leadership skills lets people know what they need to do and feel recognised and rewarded for doing those things well. 

Leadership also needs to make sure the work environment supports the e-Commerce culture and the standards and policies, and systems and resources are in place to make sure the culture stays strong. 

Great e-Commerce cultures deliver better results. There’s a focus on customer needs, creative solutions and working together. A great culture improves how you do e-Commerce, and makes your team happier and more effective. 

Read our guide to how to get more sales online for more practical online selling tips, or our article on breakthrough ideas for more on culture. Contact us if you need help with your own e-Commerce culture. 

Photo Credits

Hands : Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Three people pointing at laptop : Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Three Monkeys (stone) Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

Heart Button Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Thumbs up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Two people with macbooks and notepads :  Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Warehouse : Photo by Ruchindra Gunasekara on Unsplash

Legal scales : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Petrol Station Fill-up : Photo by Brad Starkey on Unsplash

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