eCommerce investment the key to getting closer to the consumer

30th March 2017

Stuart Richards, a consultant in the Global Consumer practice at HW Global Talent Partner, answers questions on eCommerce in our latest blog.

What do you think is the single biggest issue right now for the retail and consumer industry?

All our clients are looking at ways to get closer to the consumer. To do this, most are embracing digital transformation, by investing in technology and talent, building capability and leverage data and analytics in order to drive innovation and grow the bottom line. Boards are faced with the choice, whether to trade through an etailer partner (Amazon or Alibaba) or a direct-to-customer approach.

Why are so few firms getting eCommerce right and what can they learn from those who are?

Some businesses have just been too slow to react to emerging technology and the changing consumer demand it is driving, but to be fair it is all still relatively new and constantly changing. Many are still not prepared to invest sufficiently in digital transformation, and risk being left behind by more forward thinking competitors. As the world’s largest eCommerce business with $80bn in annual sales, Amazon can afford to invest heavily and take risks on innovation. Recent additions like the Dash Button and Prime Air are truly ground-breaking and potentially game changing. Another eCommerce success story is Liverpool-based Shop Direct, which has just been named OC&C pureplay etailer of the year for the third time running. This summer it is opening a hub in London’s Victoria to house 250 staff working on data, eCommerce, IT, brand and product to develop new paths in retail technology innovation, including investment in advanced analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Shop Direct was praised by award judges for doing ‘pioneering things’ and entering the digital era ‘in style, going further than almost any business’. It is a great example of a business that recognised the need to move away from its catalogue/DM focused heritage and invest in technology to become a class-leading eCommerce player.

What do you see as the biggest emerging issue for the sector?

Investment. Boards need to look beyond the current 3-5% that their digital channels may currently account for and instead focus on the potential 70% growth they could generate with appropriate investment. Some firms are even retracting from eCommerce strategies, failing to recognise the positive impact on the overall business across the entire channel mix.

What are the key challenges facing global consumer giants in terms of eCommerce?

These will centre on harnessing technology to get closer to the consumer, making the customer journey as straight forward as possible. Recent Amazon innovations such as the Dash Button remove the hassle of mundane tasks like going to buy washing powder when you run out. In a recent blog Keith Higgins, Global EVP eCommerce, Omni-Channel, Smart Data at Unilever, highlighted the mobile phone, voice activation and the use of smart data to enable targeted interactions as being key to the future development of eCommerce.

Is there a dearth of talent in the digital director role, making it a highly competitive market for executive search?

It is definitely a candidate-led market and there are opportunities across the consumer landscape. But it is such a diverse function that requires a complex set of skills (trading, P&L ownership, strategic capability building and execution, marketing and analytics) that finding a well-rounded professional can be a real challenge. It is perhaps not surprising we have former employees of global eCommerce leaders like Amazon and eBay on most shortlists. Recent assignments for global CPG businesses have included global e-commerce director positions in London and New York, a global head of data & analytics working between the UK and US, CMI director positions in France, Belgium and London, a European digital marketing director, and a measurement & analytics director based in Chicago. Because of our track record delivering executive hires for tier one global retailers and CPG businesses, we are able to add genuine insight in a truly consultative way, identifying strategic goals and finding the best talent globally to add value to the bottom line.

Contact Stuart Richards at stuartr@hitchenorwakeford.com or on +44 (0) 7787 254 600 for a confidential discussion.