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Learning your way out of the pandemic

Article by Richard Breeden, Managing Director econsultancy

In the UK, eCommerce sales rose 36% year-on-year in 2020[i], the fastest growth since 2007. This has been driven by a huge (partially enforced) shift in consumer behaviour with 46% of UK consumers purchasing a product online that they had previously only ever purchased in store before the pandemic began. Analysis from GlobalData[ii] shows that 9 out of the top 10 global ecommerce companies (by revenue) experienced double-digit growth in 2020 as new consumer habits swayed in their favour. And according to Charged Retail, Amazon is now on course[iii] to become the UK’s largest retailer by 2025. In parallel, the need to engage customers in the digital channels where they congregate and drive demand in digital channels has exploded. With it comes a greater need for digitally skilled marketers, as well as eCommerce experts.

The pandemic has accelerated eCommerce sales at a pace no one was expecting, and organisations have had to adapt to significant and very rapid change. For example, a recent Econsultancy study in the pharma and healthcare sector 82% of respondents said digital is ‘quickly accelerating as a sales channel’ and 90% said they have ‘had to accelerate digital transformation plans’. Even businesses which have thrived have had to adapt to a (at least partial) remote working, which has now become an employee expectation in many areas.

At the same time, constant uncertainty, altered working practices and isolation – never mind those who’ve juggled home-schooling, and dealt with illness or bereavement – has taken its toll on employees. And after eighteen months of lockdowns and restrictions many are feeling low, overworked, and lacking in motivation. Employee churn is likely to increase from already high rates due to the pent-up supply and demand the pandemic has created. A recent survey[iv] found that 40% of employees are considering changing jobs in the next 12 months.

The battle for digital talent is fierce, nowhere more so than in eCommerce and digital marketing. Expertise is hard to find, difficult to keep and expensive. Upskilling is the fastest, cheapest, and most effective way to add and enhance ecommerce and related digital capabilities and retain them. Acquiring relevant skills, cross functional agility and obsessing about customer experience (CX) are the key to success. CX leaders are three-times more likely[v] to have “significantly outpaced” their sectors than their mainstream peers because of their respective strategic commitment to CX and the investments made over the last five years.

Education is the answer
To effectively introduce or accelerate eCommerce, education is needed at all levels of the organisation to ensure that organisational eCommerce capability is improved, rather than stranded pockets of excellence.

Commercial leaders need to be skilled at how to lead an eCommerce business – knowing the questions to ask, what good looks like, the case for investment. All employees need an eCommerce foundation – how it works, key principles, platforms, and a common language. ECommerce specialists need to keep on top of the latest trends and learnings from other markets and categories in a rapidly evolving world.

Understanding where the skill levels of various teams within a business is an important first step. Companies need to assess and benchmark individual and team skills, allowing the organisation to understand skill levels of respective teams internally and to compare these levels to competitors and the wider industry. Armed with this data, originations can quickly design programs target areas of need in priority areas.

For example, as well as knowing how to operationally manage and optimise existing digital channels, ecommerce professionals need to think strategically so that they can analyse and evaluate the potential of emerging channels. They need to ask if new eCommerce channels represent touchpoints where their brand needs to be present and ready to transact? Or could new channels represent opportunities to address new market segments? For example, the proliferation of eCommerce marketplaces means that brands need to be aware of peer-to-peer commerce. Is this something that they should observe? Or should they examine ways to participate?

How to upskill eCommerce
My experience tells me that the winners are addressing eCommerce upskilling in three critical ways:

  1. Those addressing specific technical skills with blended approach to learning. Some companies are too focused on either on-demand ‘answers now’ resources or structured learning. Success comes from a combination of the two, in a format which is delivered both digitally and face-to-face (virtual or in person).
  2. Secondly, skills need to be developed in parallel with mindset. Organisations should seek to cultivate the right mindset to create and reinforce the right organisational culture, and ensure teams have the knowledge, skills, and tools to do the best job in a constantly evolving environment. In this sense, both the health of an organisation and its success depends upon the mindsets of its individuals.
  3. And finally, learning needs to extend beyond the core eCommerce team. Multichannel is exactly that and if sales, procurement, finance, marketing, etc. aren’t working together with a shared understanding of eCommerce, its impact and growth are capped.

Which is why for HR Directors, embarking on – and updating – your training and development is more important than ever. As well as being seen to support and invest in your workforce, the rapid digital transformation many companies have gone through, means there are skills gaps that need addressing. And nowhere has this focus been needed more than in eCommerce and digital marketing. By equipping your business and your staff with the infrastructure, knowledge, and skills to survive the changing business landscape, you will not only ensure the company’s future, but also enthuse and invigorate your staff after a long year.

With much of the change that has taken place likely to be permanent, ensuring your staff are fully competent across eCommerce and digital marketing is a business necessity, not matter what sector you operate in. The role of the HR Director has never been so critical for growth.






    Richard Breeden is Managing Director of Econsultancy part of the Xeim Group, C. Richard has more than 20 years' experience in eCommerce and business transformation in numerous B2B and B2C sectors. He has held leadership roles at Ascential plc, DMGT plc and Universal Music Group, both in the UK and Middle East. He also founded the eCommerce retailer EBTM plc in 2005.

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