February 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Managing E-Commerce

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Connell had transferred to Roots’ e-commerce department, then part of I.T., when it opened in 1999. When Roots later handed its Canadian e-commerce to Sears, the e-commerce department turned into an online marketing department. It later separated yet again into a purely e-commerce function, residing within the marketing department. The end of the Sears agreement has now put Canadian e-commerce back under Roots’ own roof. With that, Connell has assumed responsibility for e-commerce, digital marketing and, under the new media component of his title, “generally anything that is new and emerging,” he says.

Any of those roles might amount to a full-time job, but how the job is structured in addition to where e-commerce is on Root’s evolutionary curve keep it manageable, Connell says. He is able to delegate much of the actual management of the online store to a manager of e-commerce operations. Similarly, a digital marketer who actually sits in the marketing department reports to Connell, and his other reports include a couple of web designers. The I.T. operation is outsourced.

With oversight for the non-store channels, one of Connell’s challenges is balancing resources and efforts for those functions. One of the plusses of his three-part role is sitting in on meetings for retail operations, design of products and creation of relevant product lines, offline marketing, and the b2b operation. “The role is key because it touches on so many other departments,” he says.

Web sales are still a small contributor to privately owned Roots’ sales and there are several reasons why. Most of Canada’s population lives close to a Roots store. For a long time, e-commerce was viewed at the company mostly as a way to distribute U.S. Olympic products. Throw in early web experiences far less user-friendly than is typical today and the fact that Canada had fewer catalogs to accustom people to buying remotely, and there wasn’t a lot of impetus for Roots to develop its online channel.

But that has changed, Connell says. “Now people are starting to see the benefits of operating an online store as a profitable business and a revenue generating opportunity,” he says.

If that’s the case, might Connell’s broad role, and especially its combination of online marketing and merchandising, again be divided as the business grows? That’s one potential scenario. But right now? “I believe this configuration works best, given the company’s objectives for growing the channel,” he says.

Splitting functions

Intimate apparel retailer Bare Necessities started 30 years ago as a single store. Though the company now operates four stores, the founders saw the Internet as the key to growth, launching BareNecessities.com in 1998. The channel got its own vice president from the start, with that position covering site operations and marketing, including online and store-based marketing.

“The aha moment was when we realized there are really two distinct jobs we want done. We want to bring people to the site, then when they get there we want them to have a great experience and buy,” explains CEO Noah Wrubel. With what it says is 60% annual growth since 1998, Bare Necessities had reached the point in its evolution online at which it needed to split those jobs.

The channel’s initial vice president had been handling it all with the help of three director-level positions. After splitting up the two job functions, Bare Necessities in October hired Jessica Jackson, a 20-year veteran of Victoria’s Secret, as its first dedicated vice president of e-commerce. While the original vice president, now vice president of Internet marketing and new business development, now focuses on driving traffic to the site, Jackson’s role is to optimize the site experience for shoppers once they arrive.

Her position’s function is part technical analyst, part creative director. For example, it’s her job to understand conversions as well as where people are dropping off the site, and then sand down points of friction that are causing the drops. With no full-time data analyst on staff, she needs to determine key metrics to follow and what merits testing on the site. At the same time, she’s charged with putting more brand personality into the site experience, a must as the company seeks to expand business.

“So one of the challenges from a marketing content and creative point of view is, how do you take what is a visual brand and put that into 72dpi, make it look fabulous, and make it have the impact you can have from a billboard or printed page or store window,” she says.

Jackson has a seat at the strategic planning table alongside top management and the two other vice presidents. She works especially closely with the vice president of Internet marketing and new business development and the executive vice president of merchandising. That underscores the fact that though the company has divided responsibilities among more people as it has grown, those people depend in part on knowledge the others have to get their own jobs done. “You can’t market the site,” she says, “without knowing what is going to be big in fashion, where we are going to spend our time and effort on creative development first, who the big vendors are, and where people are going on the site.”

Family business

The vice president of e-commerce at J&R; Electronics Inc. didn’t have to carve out his role from another job title or undergo corporate restructuring to define his responsibilities. Jason Friedman designed the job himself over time, but that’s the opportunity-and the challenge-of being in the family business.

Friedman, son of the founders of J&R;, started working there as a teen. That was after the 35-year-old company had started growing from a tiny Manhattan storefront selling records into a megastore covering one city block, and after it had launched its catalog business. After graduating from college in 1995 with a background in database programming, Friedman was in law school when his parents asked him for help in putting up a web site. “It was a side project while I was in law school, but it quickly snowballed. I quit law school and I’ve been here ever since,” he says. The product database he built for the company at that time is still the product catalog it uses today.

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