October 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

New Wave

(Page 2 of 3)

With the economy taking a dive between 2003 and 2005, median cash compensation for the top e-commerce job has settled at $248,600 in 2006, according to Mercer’s data, which De Voort compares to the going rate for a top divisional executive across all sizes of companies across a variety of industry sectors.

Mid-level recovery
Compensation for some other higher-level retail-specific e-commerce jobs followed the same track over the same time period. But other, more mid-level jobs, are paying more today than they did in 2002. According to Mercer’s data, median compensation for senior web designers rose from $65,000 in 2002 to $75,000 this year; for e-commerce marketing analyst, it rose from $49,900 to $73,600. De Voort says such growth represents normal growth for job functions in continuous demand over the last few years, with an extra boost this year from a strengthening economy.

Another metric that provides a snapshot of the retail e-commerce job market is the time it takes to fill advertised positions. One title tracked by Gartner’s IT Market Compensation Study is e-commerce manager. In 2006, it took an average 2.7 months to fill posted jobs, close to the average of 3.0 months for all surveyed jobs. By contrast, in 2005 it took an average 1.9 months to fill posted jobs, compared with an ­average of 3 months for all jobs.

“My feeling on this role, like many others, is that it is ‘hot’ for a while, and then folks settle into these roles and there is either not a lot of difficulty in hiring or not a lot of movement,” says Diane Berry, managing vice president , executive programs content, at Gartner.

And the e-commerce job marketplace as a whole? “It’s a strong market,” says Joiner, from the perspective of doing nothing but e-commerce placements across a span of titles for the past two years. “I don’t see it slowing down.”

A maturing market
Settling down, but still strong: that’s one mark of a maturing job market sector. And though it might otherwise be a stretch to look for signs of maturity in an industry only about 10 yeas old, this is Internet Time. And there are other signs. For one thing, this industry now has enough ­longevity that, as in other industries, track record is a key criterion in ­hiring for mid- and high-level jobs.

“These positions are no ­longer about your technical prowess but your performance prowess. Employers are looking for quantified results,” says Legrand. “It’s not about whether you could create a safe buying environment online, for example, but about how your navigation and experiential development created growth year over year for products and services.”

For another, deep-pockets up-front signing bonuses of four and five years ago have largely given way to compensation packages that have a performance-based component tied to business results. With the more recent view of e-commerce as just another sales channel, pay structure is commensurate with the rest of the sales force. “If you can move the needle from A to B you are paid some sort of commission,” says Legrand.

While e-retailers now look for track record in filling higher-level jobs, they’ve also learned what to look for at the junior level. Unless it’s for a job title within e-commerce that manages the infrastructure that supports e-commerce, factors such as an analytical bias, rather than specific IT skills, can be a better predictor of job success.

Creative juices
A degree in statistics is one way to demonstrate such ability, but it’s not the only way into an e-commerce job. At Crutchfield.com, Stevenson looks for a particular quality when staffing junior level merchandising positions, that is, “someone who is able to measure their success, who likes to use numbers to measure how they are doing,” he says. On the web design and development side, a number of the junior hires are English majors. “A lot of the junior people have taken classes in it, dabbled in it, and discovered this talent. They want to exercise their creative juices,” he says.

When the intersection between technology and marketing is ­difficult to find in e-commerce job candidates, a company’s tenure online can offer guidance on where to place the emphasis when it must choose. “If you’re a small company without an existing e-commerce function, the first place to go is technology,” says Legrand. “There’s enough to be bought off the shelf to help you with the first version of how you go to market, so what you need is a technologist who can plug and play.”

But once a site has some tenure, its success relies less on technology and more on an understanding of timing, pricing, packaging, analytics and the customer experience. Site success is less a technical issue and more an experiential or marketing issue, which changes the nature of the ideal job candidate.

In the future, as individual sites and the industry as whole continue to evolve, the picture will change again, with development making e-commerce web technology still simpler, and the existing skills of new workers rising to meet the demand. “People coming out of business programs other than IT are already much more savvy about technology than they were five years ago,” says De Voort. “In the future, there will also be a huge difference in the technology available. The machines are going to be much more capable and cheaper. We’ll see more people who will learn to do more, and the technology will be there to help them do it, so you won’t need the technology specialist to help you,” he says.

Focus on the process
That raises the question: What, in such a future, will be the relation of IT to e-commerce? To come full circle, De Voort for one thinks IT might create more top e-commerce executives as at Blue Nile. But that’s not so much because of their expertise in particular technologies or systems as because of their expertise is something else: process.

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