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4 Modes Of ECommerce Leadership

Leaders from a wide range of disciplines continue to migrate into the eCommerce sector. Over 300,000 eCommerce positions have been added over the past decade. New leadership positions vary dramatically in scope drawing to differing degrees on traditional IT, Supply Chain, Marketing, Sales, and Merchandising skills. The influx of new eCommerce leaders largely consists of established professionals from these fields.

An eCommerce leader’s unique functional background can be both a help and a hindrance to their success. The same experience that allows a leader to quickly solve familiar problems can also limit their ability to see new threats and opportunities or to take appropriate action in new situations.

A well-rounded eCommerce leader needs to be able to see their business from multiple angles.  We propose that eCommerce leadership thinking can be broken into 4 modes. A single leader can (and should) use all four at different times although many leaders will default to a favorite. These are shown in the table below and are defined by two variables:

  • Internal vs. External Modes: In the Internal modes, a leader seeks to influence results by making improvements to lasting assets including store design and item content. In External modes, however, the leader is interacting with a dynamic external landscape.
  • Human-Centric vs. System-Centric Modes: As indicated by the name, human-centric modes seek to influence shopper behavior by presenting the right information at the right time in a compelling and relevant way. System-centric modes are more focused on process and data – they deliver wins that are “behind the scenes” to shoppers but can be just as impactful to results.

All 4 modes have application to today’s biggest eCommerce challenges:

  • Designing Mode: Companies with decades of successful advertising experience continue to struggle as they adapt their product message and brand story to a variety of formats needed across their selling channels. In Designing mode, the leader will use strategy to create a shopper experience that seamlessly weaves together words, images, and video. eCommerce professionals coming from traditional Marketing backgrounds will typically default to this mode.
  • Engineering Mode: In this mode, the leader is focused on back office systems and processes – building them, improving them, and keeping them in control. The Engineering mode is effectively on a wide variety of priorities including eCommerce platform selection, design and optimization of order fulfillment systems, and implementation of new analytic or marketing capabilities. Professionals who’ve built their careers in IT and Supply Chain roles will usually focus here.
  • Engaging: The Engaging leader seeks to create meaningful interaction between brand and shopper outside of the store. Social media marketing, content marketing, influencer marketing, and others all come into play in this mode. While brand and item content are an ingredient to the work, Engaging should be a dynamic conversation and needs to consider the human side of the equation. Leaders with Marketing and Advertising backgrounds favor this mode.
  • Fighting: Competition drives this mode which is becoming more prevalent as Marketplace selling grows in its influence. The Fighter is concerned with protecting brand visibility and competitive value in “real time.” To win in this mode, the leader needs more than wits – they need great tools and data to automate pricing adjustments, pay-per-click bids, and to track rankings on strategic keywords. Sales, Merchandising, and Analytics professionals find this mode most familiar.

Choosing the right mode in which to focus is situation dependent. While the leader may favor one or more of the modes, they need to consider the brand situation and focus their attention accordingly.

To be successful long-term, seek balance. The most successful eCommerce leaders and organizations will operate across multiple modes depending on the situation. Consider formal training and mentorship to broaden the way that you see the eCommerce world – go outside of your personal comfort zone. If you’re managing an organization, ensure that you’re hiring well to fill any gaps in thinking style.

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