Future brand leaders: What it will take to win in eCommerce in 2019

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Over the past 30 years the leadership team at E Fundamentals have spoken to hundreds of retailers and brands; drawing on their decades of experience in the rapidly evolving FMCG sector, they now work closely with brand owners to help them drive it. With retail footfall falling and eCommerce sales rising in 2018, for a commercially savvy and ambitious leader it would be clear where the next growth opportunity lies.

With insight from former and current brand owners and input from hundreds of conversations we’ve had, here are 10 important things to keep front of mind as you lead the eCommerce agenda for your company.


Key takeaways

  • For eCommerce to work, you need a big, long term vision for it and embed it into your company’s business plan

  • With deep category insights you can create more interesting, competitive and ambitious strategies than what the traditional joint business plans consisted of

  • Bring your international and regional teams together to drive eCommerce growth

  • Take eCommerce scorecards with a pinch of salt; they’re good at reflecting where you are but not what you need to do to grow

  • Asses the tools you need for Amazon carefully - brands have more leverage than they think

  • You don’t need a data scientist, analysts or a team of specialists to maximise your eCommerce data

  • Borrow great ideas from other industries

  • Spread your eCommerce knowledge throughout the company

  • Don’t forget to be passionate about what you do! It’s infectious.


1. Create a vision for eCommerce


Companies often have a clear vision for their brick-and-mortar model and a solid business plan that kicks of the new year. Very few can say the same for eCommerce. Setting a vision is slightly different from setting the goals / KPIs. Wanting to increase your search ranking or fixing the basics isn’t a vision; those are executional KPIs that  help deliver the vision.Having a vision means thinking bigger. It means you’re committed to growing the channel and seeing a future for it in your wider business plan because eCommerce will help you deliver it. Such as….

  1. We want to grow our eCommerce channel by x%

  2. x% of sales should come from eCommerce by end of 2019

  3. Our industry looks to us for best practices in eCommerce

If you don’t start on the basis of a wider vision, you’ll find yourself getting lost with just fixing product descriptions and improving product rankings... and then not really knowing where to go from there (as well as not fully releasing how product rankings can contribute to your vision).

2. Foresight - what’s beyond fixing the basics?


Traditionally the in-store model involved brands supplying to retailers who would lead the sales and distribution. When it then came to eCommerce, a lot of players fell into handling online in the same way as they had done in-store. There are some clear similarities and transferrable strategies across the two channels however, what's overlooked is the scope of growth right in the hands of the suppliers. With the boom of digital transformation, the disruption of this retail model has made way for seizing never been heard before opportunities (D2C, AI, IoT) and for new ways of working. Brands have the capability to develop large breadth of category insights and with this new found information, there is potential to compile more interesting, competitive and ambitious plans than what the traditional joint business plans would have consisted of.

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“A lot of brands coming from legacy systems are struggling to clearly see the eCommerce opportunity. Because they've got into a routine and structure to see price, promotions and category information in a certain way, it can be challenging to foresee what else there could be. But this attitude towards eCommerce has the danger of just presenting back information on what you already know you're doing; what about actually influencing and reinventing your category? That’s where the focus of brand leaders needs to be.”

Dan Foy, Customer Success Manager, E Fundamentals


3. Questioning the case for an eCommerce scorecard

Generally scorecards are created to reflect, not track, improvements being made online such as; are sales increasing? Is the content up to scratch? Have our products changed ranking against our key word search? In pursuit of a number you don’t realise what changes you made to get to that result. Your teams might be blindly executing with no guarantee that their actions are producing results because a scorecard doesn’t give the level of detail necessary to identify and prioritise actions. eCommerce scorecards are important, there’s no denying that. They show at a glance where we were and how far we’ve got left to go.

However, for a truly powerful way of producing results, the efforts of the commercial teams need to flow into the scorecard so you can see a clear breakdown on how actions are being aligned with the numbers. The objective of an eCommerce scorecard shouldn’t just deliver a top line overview on the progress that’s being made, but also deliver an element of analysis to be able communicate how your company has reached that score and what else they need to do to improve it further.

If you already operate with an eCommerce scorecard, be sure to ask your insights provider how they got to that number and see what they say. If you haven’t yet started to work with one, make sure you partner with a provider that doesn’t just sell you a scorecard.


4 . Globalise and localise

Bringing international and regional markets together is a powerful driver for growth; it solidifies your strategy, rolls it out consistently and encourages the sharing of insights and capabilities across different teams. As a brand that’s operating in multiple markets, each one of your teams will have a different focus regarding eCommerce. By clarifying all the pieces of the eCommerce mix you can identify how your regional roles can help the strategy at a local level; you want to bring capabilities, best practices and ways of working from your global teams to your local teams but without substituting the work of the local team.  As part of your groundwork, define roles clearly and identify the support needed in terms of insights and analytics to help your commercial teams understand the retail landscape. As different people are doing the same things, you need to organise and understand each other's roles to condense this efficiently.

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“We want to put local markets at the centre of the action. We will then prioritise the key actions that will drive quick wins for the business and help them achieve their objectives whilst learning new capabilities and building best practices. We will work on the eCommerce plan as pillar to the current strategy that will help deliver existing KPIs, not add news ones so it becomes a burden and yet another thing the local teams need to do. This is by far is the best way to approach eCommerce.”

Elena Meyer, eCommerce Category Manager at Edgewell Personal Care


5. Approaching Amazon


Amazon’s threat is very real, nobody is undermining that. However, what you equally can’t undermine is the power that brands have in re-directing the conversation. Despite two of the biggest world sales records in 2018 were broken by pureplayers (Amazon and Alibaba), over 10,000 ‘Which?’ readers voted Omnichannel brand Liz Earle, as the best website for delivering a wonderful customer experience. There’s immense strength in being multi-channel, it's the reason why Amazon started to open brick-and-mortar stores. We’ve seen many incidences where the threat of Amazon has driven people to purchase ill informed tools, insights and capabilities which not only fail to deliver what's promised, but more worryingly don’t drive any real, strategic change. If you want to take Amazon seriously, start from point one; define your eCommerce vision and embed it into your wider business plan and work backwards from that. This would create a shift towards practically driving all your channels against one clear goal.


6. Growth vs expenditure

“Don’t expect a return for at least three years”. We were surprised to find how common this view was. A lot of brands and retailers were embracing eCommerce and all the technology around it, but without much confidence in whether it was actually doing anything. The investment of digital ads is a great example of professionals like P&G, not having clarity on how it’s working and what return on investment they’re getting. Steps towards actually growing an organisation vs just making it tick along are starkly different. Growth requires focusing on the tools, processes and ways of working as much as on the outputs themselves, hence why eCommerce scorecards alone don’t grow companies. Just as sales and marketers are starting to look at the entire customer journey and all the touchpoints within it, business leaders need to reassess the internal touchpoints their teams have that deliver against the external touchpoints. By aligning the two you’ll set yourself up to have a more agile and efficient team that’s prioritising the growth actions.


7. Work smart


There was a time when you needed data scientist or analysts to empower your teams. This is still true for Big Data. However, in the realm of eCommerce, nobody other than your sales and marketers would know better how to sell and promote online. If all they’re missing are insights, channeling the right kind and delivering them in a way that will make sense to them is all that would be needed to make great strides. Lean companies can access all the same insights as a business analyst but without needing a team of experts to make sense of it. Smart eCommerce analytics tools can do the hard work for you from crunching the numbers and presenting the results in ways that are quick and simple to understand.

8. Borrow great ideas from other industries


If there ever was a time to aggressively innovate, it’s right now. The pace of change is the fastest it’s ever been and with the changing consumer behaviour mixed with technological advancement, there are very few rules left to play by.  As a visionary who is leading the future of your brand, there are three key concepts to take seriously in 2019 that will help with idea creation:

i) ‘category escapology’;  73 % of consumers are open to welcoming new food and more prone to experimenting, from Waitrose’s avocado chocolate Easter eggs  to Heineken’s non-alcoholic beer catering to the health and wellness trend. In a competitive market, novelty carries weight so whether you’re using concepts or flavours, it's important to think about about how the customer is shopping in other categories and how this can be applied to yours.

ii) Agile culture; traditionally a style of project management, agile is used predominantly in tech teams but became a concept within retail in its own right in 2018. Having seen the exponential growth and profit that the agile methodology can produce, ambitious companies have started to talk about how they can use its principles within their own organisations. Fundamentally, agile is seen as a means to empower lean teams with self directed management.

iii)  The ‘test-and-learn’ approach. Earlier this year Quorn Food’s eCommerce manager was one out of many brand owners who attributed ‘test-and-learn’ as being a core component to their eCommerce strategy. This ties in strongly with an agile culture as the focus is to constantly produce, test and rectify quickly and efficiently.  

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“If you’re going to adopt new strategies and activations, use the eCommerce space with a small budget and apply that in your activation. This has been really good at getting our products in front of new shoppers, getting them to add it to their baskets and to favourites.”

Victoria Sowerby, eCommerce Manager at Quorn Foods.




All three considerations can be used to transform the eCommerce channel into one that quickly restores and reinvests itself.


9. Spread the knowledge beyond just the eCommerce experts

As part of your eCommerce vision, you should aim to build a key group of people in every market to help them work on eCommerce. Just as digital is no longer a separate function but part of a wider omnichannel strategy, eCommerce should be an extension of sales and marketing. The only reason why it’s currently not is because a lot of brands are still trying to define their eCommerce plans.

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“It’s important for us to focus on the full strategy of the key customers and how the online piece can deliver this alongside the other channels. We don’t limit the discussion to eCommerce but look along the entire customer strategy. We’re constantly asking: how can eCommerce create additional value for us and for our customers? We have also identified the support needed in terms of insights and analytics to help us understand retailers and markets evolution in eCommerce. We want this to be shared so all the commercial functions work together and share their knowledge.”

Elena Meyer, eCommerce Category Manager at Edgewell Personal Care


And finally…

10. Be passionate


Make no mistake, passion is a commodity and a dying one at that. This trait is quickly being overlooked as we approach the ‘retail of the future’. Earlier this year advertising guru John Hegarty (founding shareholder of Saatchi & Saatchi) summed up the current market as:

“We lack today people who love what it is that they do. They are very professional, they’re well trained, they read data, but they don’t love it.”  

Technology in itself can’t innovate, it can give you the tools you need to innovate which is why having the right eCommerce insights is so imperative. Data should help fuel your creativity and make informed decisions, not be the end all of everything which will set you on a path to being risk averse. The best case scenario is putting powerful tools in the hands of passionate people so it aids their work, not adds yet another thing for them to learn and manage.

Despite how technologically advanced we get and how challenging the climate becomes, being jaded is not an option. Your eCommerce vision should set your ambition in motion. Passion is infectious and it’s easy to spot who is genuinely loving what they’re doing. Be that kind of a leader.


Grow your online category in 2019

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