August 1, 2013, 3:07 PM

Exclusive survey results on e-commerce hiring

For merchants and vendors that sell the software and services that make online operations hum, marketing and technology jobs have become especially hard to fill, according to the results of an exclusive Internet Retailer survey.

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Women's eyewear e-retailer Rivet & Sway needs more e-commerce specialists.

The 18-month-old web-only startup has gotten by with generalists—its creative director also nurtures the firm's e-mail marketing program, for example—but its growth plan requires an expert devoted full time to that task, says recently appointed CEO Sarah Bryar, a veteran of Inc. Software technology experts are required, too, and need to "flex easily" between front- and back-end web systems.

Finding that help may prove challenging. "Talented software engineers are always in demand, so it's a highly competitive environment," she says. "The good ones rarely apply for jobs. You have to go find them."

The hiring needs of Seattle-based Rivet & Sway match those of many respondents to a new Internet Retailer survey designed to measure e-commerce recruitment and retention trends. For both merchants and the vendors who sell the technology and services that make online operations hum, marketing and technology jobs are the greatest hiring needs and the biggest hiring challenges.

Consider these figures from the survey:

  • Asked to name their top three hiring priorities in the coming year, 34.5% of retailer respondents listed jobs in marketing, 25.3% said information/technology positions, and—in a tie for third—18.4% said positions in research/analytics and web design.
  • Asked to name the top three areas where jobs are hardest to fill, 31.0% of retailers said information/technology, 21.8% marketing and 19.5% research/analytics.
  • For vendors, the top three hiring area needs were for information technology/software positions (23.0%), in marketing/sales (21.8%) and in client services (10.3%). The hardest positions to fill were in the areas of information technology/software (57.1%), marketing/sales (25%) and partnership development (7.1%).

Those findings come as no surprise to Wendy Weber, president of executive recruitment firm Crandall Associates Inc. "Everyone seems to be looking for good e-commerce merchandise managers, analysts and web development folks," she says.

The survey, conducted online from mid-June through mid-July, attracted 85 responses, of which 56 came from retailers and 29 from vendors. The responses were anonymous, but many participants left comments about the difficulty of recruiting that were in line with comments from retailers, vendors and recruiters interviewed for this story.

They all agree e-commerce is expanding, and demands workers who can adapt to change. But the kind of employee they're looking for varies from one business to the next.

For every retailer like Rivet & Sway aiming to find workers with specific skills, there is another company looking for individuals with a broader background. For example, New York-based online wine retailer has been advertising this summer for a new e-commerce director to handle such tasks as search, e-mail and social media marketing, oversee web design, and also have an MBA in marketing, finance or strategy, according to an online job posting from e-commerce recruiter Harry Joiner, whose will handle some 200 candidate searches this year.

Joiner points to changes and trends he's witnessed in e-commerce hiring. For one, Joiner, over his nine years of e-commerce recruitment, says he's seen a shift from companies seeking technologists oriented toward marketing to marketers who understand the technology upon which e-commerce relies. Companies tend to find the former within their organization, but often recruit the latter from outside, he says.

Joiner says that the hardest e-commerce jobs to fill these days are leadership positions. "I can find plenty of people who understand the nuts and bolts of direct-to-consumer e-commerce," he says. "It's harder to find business-oriented leaders."

E-retail veteran Robert Gilbreath would agree.

Newly installed this year as vice president of marketing for shipping software vendor ShipStation, Gilbreath had worked at e-retailer LLC, which hired him in 2009 and where he most recently was vice president of e-commerce marketing and analytics for the seller of calendars, puzzles, games and books. While there, he hired what he calls a "jack of all trades" who knew how to handle a range of e-commerce tasks, from social media to design. "But there was no business savvy there," he says.

The lesson? Being generally bright and hard-working, and attracting thousands of followers on social media and proving oneself a master of, say, tagging and cropping online images, doesn't necessarily mean the candidate is suited for e-commerce, or will prove a strong e-retail team leader.

Still, Gilbreath and others say, a lack of deep business experience doesn't automatically disqualify job seekers, and that's especially true for younger companies. Three-year-old web-only eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, for instance, offers an in-house management course taught by co-CEO Dave Gilboa for employees who take on added responsibilities, including overseeing others, as the company grows.

That kind of growth opportunity may well help a company retain e-retail staffers, the survey suggests. Asked to name the top three factors in keeping e-commerce workers, compensation/benefits unsurprisingly came in first for retailers, with 32.2%. Next up was company reputation, 28.7%, followed by interesting work environment, 26.4%, and the challenging nature of work, 21.8%. For vendors, 20.7% cited an interesting work environment, followed at 17.2% by compensation/benefits. In third place, with 14.9% each, were the challenging nature of the work and company reputation.

No doubt casual work environments, catered lunches and giving workers budgets to design their offices—the case at Austin, Texas-based ShipStation, Gilbreath says—can play a role in keeping the best employees on the payroll. Weber, though, has noticed a shift in those attitudes, even as the recent film "The Internship" furthered the popularity of Google Inc.'s informal workplace and sparked envy among cubicle denizens.

"The 'fun' work place is very 1990s," she says. "Today's e-commerce pros want a piece of the action." That can mean compensation for leading initiatives that boost profits, either by increasing sales or cutting costs.

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