The very first online purchase occurred on 11 August 1994: a copy of Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales CD. Since then ‘e-commerce’ – the term used to describe transactions conducted over the internet – has exploded. Many of us interact with e-commerce businesses on a daily basis, whether it’s purchasing physical goods, digital goods, or online services.
Some examples of e-commerce businesses include:
- Asos — a digital marketplace that sells clothing and accessories to consumers online.
- Shutterstock — a website that allows businesses and individuals to buy high-quality stock images for personal or commercial use.
- 99 Designs — a website that allows you to purchase design services over the internet, such as logos and web designs.
E-commerce businesses can either operate purely online, such as in the case of Asos, which doesn’t have physical stores, or they may also have material shopfronts. Some grocery stores, for example, allow shoppers to buy their goods online and have them delivered. Businesses such as these use e-commerce platforms such as WooCommerce or Shopify to enable online transactions.
There are many benefits to running an e-commerce business, whether you operate purely online or not. Online transactions allow you to expand your reach and service more customers, however, there are challenges to conducting business online. Shipping logistics comes into the equation, along with the need for strong IT support for your digital assets. With so many areas of the operation to manage at once, there are some specific skills that e-commerce business owners need to develop in order to be successful.
1. Critical thinking
There are a lot of moving parts to an e-commerce business. You need to juggle marketing and sales, stock control, shipping, and delivery logistics, communication with customers and service providers – just to name a few. And all the while, you need to keep an eye on your overall profitability.
Being able to think critically is essential for running an e-commerce operation. Successful e-commerce business owners can step back, look at all of the different elements, and decide how to act in order to meet business and customer needs.
As with any type of business venture, companies that trade online are bound to encounter issues. As a business owner, you need to have the ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently, with minimal impact on everyday operations. Sometimes you’ll need to do this under pressure, using creativity to find innovative new ways to do things.
Problem-solving also requires a powerful ability to be resourceful. If you can look beyond your own available skills and materials, you’ll be able to find new ways to approach challenges and meet your business goals.
Whether you’re a one-person-band or the CEO of a large e-commerce brand, you need to have strong leadership skills to drive the success of your business. This involves being able to effectively motivate your team to improve their productivity, communicate clearly with your suppliers and customers, and make important leadership decisions.
4. Emotional intelligence
The capacity to manage your own emotions and handle relationships effectively is vital to e-commerce business owners. A large aspect of emotional intelligence is simply being able to understand that the people you interact with, both in person and in the online world, are humans with feelings. Emotional intelligence allows you to apply empathy, listen to others, and think about your responses before you speak or act. This skill is vital in running a business and can help boost your employee retention, improve productivity and increase profitability. A UK study revealed that managers with high emotional intelligence reported a 22 percent annual profit growth (versus an average growth of 15 percent for the same period).
Communication takes many forms in the online world. As an e-commerce business owner, you’re likely to interact with customers via email or social media. Having strong written communication skills will allow you to excel in the online space. However, you shouldn’t be averse to picking up the phone and having a conversation with a difficult customer or supplier.
Communication also involves having strong negotiation skills, which will allow you to be assertive and reach mutually beneficial outcomes for you and your stakeholders.
Grit is the ability to persevere and remain passionate despite trying circumstances that last many years. Angela Duckworth, psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, defines it as a combination of resilience, ambition, and self-control, the attributes needed to stick at it despite failures and setbacks.
There are many situations in e-commerce that require grit to achieve success, from technology malfunctions, to Google changing its search engine optimisation (SEO) practices and affecting traffic to your site. Being able to persevere despite these setbacks will carry you through to eventual success.
7. Continuous learning
The digital space is in constant flux. New practices, algorithms, technologies, and systems are always changing the game, making it essential for e-commerce businesses to stay ahead of the curve. You need to be constantly learning new things and adapting to new environments.
Continued education is strongly linked to business success, which is why a majority of business leaders believe that investing in the development of executives is more important than hiring new talent. In order to sustain a successful e-commerce business, you should look to ongoing learning and development.