Five golden rules of devising an ecommerce strategy

Thomas FaureIn many industries today, brands view ecommerce as an economic saviour. As traditional distribution channel prosperity suffers, mostly due to the Covid crisis, enterprises are boosting their online activity. Total global online shopping sales are estimated at 16% for 2020, up from 10% in 2017. And an even greater surge is expected in the next few years.

For most companies, it has become urgent to exploit their e-retail channel along with their direct-to-consumer approach, as the latter isn’t adapted to all industries.

Some retailers have reached digital maturity and represent strong growth opportunities. Others are digital natives (pure players such as Amazon); still others are traditional bricks-and-mortar stores that achieved digital success by offering consistent omnichannel experiences (eg Macy’s in the US). Globally, pure players currently account for 72% of all ecommerce dollars spent (adimo.co, 2020).

Learning how to seize online opportunities is challenging. It’s especially true for large organisations whose distribution activity is based upon historical partnerships with bricks-and-mortar stores. Much of the value chain is impacted in the shift to online retail: internal management, logistics, tools, marketing, sales and so on.

Categories are monitored by algorithms according to daily test-and-learn. Marketing investments can be optimised in real-time at SKU level, and analytics can be pushed to highly granular levels, including consumer behaviour interpretation.

To manage these differences, organisational and operational changes must be implemented internally. And, as your marketing and commercial teams are the core of your e-retail activity, they need to develop skills adapted to this new channel. Some topics of study include:

Brand animation on e-retailer platforms: How to make product pages more attractive, increase digital shelf space with regard to competitors or build detailed e-activation plans.

Commercial negotiations: How to negotiate counterparts adapted to digital (eg data sharing), ensure healthy price levels, build e-joint business plans.

Performance measurement: How to monitor the right metrics, use the right tools, understand consumers and adapt strategies accordingly.

Designing upskilling programmes is a strategic tool if businesses want to achieve a successful transformation. Here are a few golden rules that will help ensure the success of your upskilling programme.

Rule #1: Know where you are and what you need
Your upskilling journey begins with a full audit of your organisation’s relationship with online business:

Strategy: What is the place of ecommerce in your distribution activity? What budgets are allocated to it? Why did you opt for an e-retail approach versus a direct to consumer model?

Operational excellence: What percentage of your sales is generated online? How qualitative are your product pages? How visible are you online?

Organisation and process: How many people are working directly on the topic and what are their job titles? What are the composition and perimeter of global management teams compared with local teams? Who is responsible for what in sales and marketing teams regarding negotiations, content, e-trade, media, analytics?

Tools and measurement: Are teams well-equipped to source and deploy relevant content on e-retailer platforms? Are they able to monitor business metrics across different retailers and markets? Do they have easy access to studies on consumer behaviours and market trends?

People: What is their degree of expertise regarding their new tasks?

Once these questions are answered, you’ll have identified your peoples’ knowledge and competency gaps in relation to where your organisation is and where you want it to go. This will serve as the cornerstone of your upskilling programme.

Rule #2: Involve top management and link the training programme to business targets
As your upskilling programme is part of a global transition initiative, it must involve top management and support global business objectives. The upskilling journey will be an opportunity to homogenise ways of working across functions and markets. Input from local stakeholders and global management alike should be sought to add impact at local and global levels.

Likewise, when developing your training agenda, make sure each module leads to a set of competencies to be acquired rather than concepts to be understood. Trainees should always know which skills they’re obtaining from each section of the programme, so they can see how they correspond to their global business targets.

Inefficiency in training initiatives is often the result of a too-strong focus on input rather than output. Practical appropriation must be prioritised over conceptual frameworks; especially when introducing pragmatic topics such as commercial negotiations.

Rule #3: Identify ecommerce champions, especially in marketing and commercial teams
The e-retail acceleration has impacted much of the value chain and, by extension, multiple functions within the company such as global management, logistics, legal, IT, marketing and sales. But certain people will always play a critical role in day-to-day e-retail activity. They’re your “ecommerce champions”: e-KAM, e-business managers, digital activation managers…

These are the ones you should focus your training on, with in-depth learning sessions and personalised workshops on topics like e-trade marketing and e-retail negotiations.

Others will be less directly implicated (BU and brand managers, transversal support staff, for example). They’ll also need e-retail transition training, but more generic courses, such as omnichannel journeys, global ecommerce figures, etc, should suffice.

Consumer habits, player typology and ways of working are naturally unique to each region. In Europe, for example, online sales accounted for 12% of total retail sales in 2019, whereas the share was 21% in China (Statista report, 2020). For this reason, we recommend local adaptations of learning. Involving local representatives charged with adapting the content to their region, and working with internationally-recognised training organisms are two ways to accomplish this.

Rule #4: Format counts as much as content
Combine theory and practice by diversifying training formats. We recommend a blended approach for a more interactive and impactful programme, using formats as varied as e-learning, workshops, bootcamps, or one-on-one coaching sessions, where trainees can interact with experts in real-time.

Successful upskilling programmes require proper educational engineering, with proven learning mechanics. Engagement with training is key, which is why top-down formats should be avoided. Try to integrate videos, exercises, infographics or testimonies in your e-learning, and invite trainees to print or download the formats as takeaways. To foster appeal and user friendliness, invite creatives and UX designers to participate in building your e-learning modules.

As for physical sessions, apply design thinking methodologies with ideation processes and discussions. Ask trainees to build real deliverables (templates, RACI) that teams will refer to in their daily activity.

Rule #5: Measure and support on a long-term basis
After investing time and resources to build the best programme for your collaborators, you want to ensure they’re leveraging it. Long-term support is necessary to be sure best practices are applied. For this reason, we recommend including occasional coaching sessions for operational support as part of the programme.

And, to anchor best practices over the long term, we recommend your upskilling programme be the keystone of an entire ecommerce community within your organisation. Animated by your champions, this community should be a vector of knowledge-sharing through feedback sessions, meet-ups, roundtable discussions, forums, or even contests.

You should also assess your programme’s business impact at the company level. Measure adoption through completion/presence rate, but also ROI: define business KPIs on which you can perform before/after benchmarks (eg online sell out, margin rates, return on ad spend, volume of metrics monitored etc). Try to isolate your impact from natural industry growth factors (ie outperforming index compared to ecommerce category growth).

Finally, it must be recognised that building strategic upskilling programmes comes with certain challenges and requires substantial investments. We recommend you choose a partner with expertise in digital business topics and training organisation accreditation to accompany you.

Thomas Faure is senior consulting manager and e-retail lead at Artefact

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