April 1, 2015, 3:59 PM

What e-commerce pros earn

Omnichannel and analytics talents are in high demand. Online retailers looking to recruit and retain the best workers  need to think beyond the paycheck.

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After e-commerce gigs at Office Max, Circuit City and then seven years at Sears, Imran Jooma finds himself in an enviable position: In the heart of what he calls the “omnichannel beast” at Finish Line Inc., a Top 500 retailer of shoes and sports gear. As the chain’s first chief omnichannel officer, the e-retailing veteran will oversee digital, store operations, the customer service center and brand marketing.

Jooma belongs to a growing cadre of omnichannel professionals whose pay signals the importance retailers are giving to executives charged with tying together stores, the web and mobile. Median total cash compensation for a top omnichannel executive was $425,000 in 2014, nearly 30% more than the median $330,000 salary for a top e-commerce executive as measured in workplace consultancy Mercer LLC’s “U.S. Retail Compensation and Benefits Survey.” (Sears’ financial filings show Jooma’s last base salary there was $750,000 but Jooma did not say what Finish Line is paying him). Last year was the first time the annual Mercer survey measured omnichannel executive compensation; two years ago the job barely existed.

Omnichannel chief, e-commerce vice president, web analyst: those jobs, respectively, offer the highest pay, highest salary growth and highest level of hiring demand in e-commerce, according to surveys, recruiters and online retail executives. But those same sources indicate that the swings in pay for executive-level e-retail positions seen in recent years are getting less extreme, and the pay for entry- and mid-level roles is holding steady. Meanwhile, e-retailers are working hard to make their positions appealing to prospective employees.

When management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. last year asked companies to name their greatest need within the next 12 months for digital business talent among employees, the top response, cited by 44% of companies, was analytics and data science.

That supports the current high demand among e-retailers for analytics professionals. Harry Joiner, an e-commerce recruiter since 2005, says analytics positions are more challenging to hire for than other online retail job areas. “There is a not a company in America that doesn’t want a good analyst,” he says. “Internet Retailer 500 companies have done a good job growing analysts,” he says, and now those analysts are often getting recruited by other firms.

In his experience, demand for analytics professionals has translated into robust salary growth for analysts, with the strongest candidates able to snag annual salaries of up to $110,000 compared with $60,000 just three years ago. A separate Mercer study finds that e-commerce analysts earned median total cash compensation of $61,800 in 2014, down 3.4% from $64,000 in 2013. 

As e-commerce grows—U.S. web sales grew 15.4% in 2014 to $305 billion, the U.S. Commerce Department says—the top executives behind those revenue gains are earning bigger rewards. Joiner says vice presidents of e-commerce can now command an annual base salary of $250,000 compared with salaries of $150,000 or $175,000 just a few years ago. Of course, with fatter paychecks come more responsibilities: The e-commerce vice president who doesn’t understand mobile commerce, who can’t produce increases in average order values and traffic, and who has little clue about how to work with digital agencies is unlikely to enjoy such bank account growth for long, he says. (See the chart below for a list of how much e-commerce professionals earn.)

Technology is another area where the competition for talent is tough, retailers and vendors report. “Finding the right tech talent for our specific Magento e-commerce platform has been the most difficult,” says Raaja Nemani, founder and CEO of BucketFeet Inc., a 4-year-old multichannel shoe retailer that employs 30 full-time workers. “The longest we’ve spoken to someone is actually two years. We loved the person, but didn’t have the right job opening. The shortest has probably been a few months of interviewing and getting to know the candidate.”

An e-commerce technology hiring veteran agrees. “I lived through the first war for talent in the 1990s, and it’s certainly as competitive now as it was then,” says Carl Prindle, president and CEO of Blueport Commerce, whose technology helps furniture retailers sell online, and who, during the first online retail boom nearly 20 years ago, worked as senior vice president, product development, for Furniture.com.

Despite that competition, salary data paints a complicated picture for e-commerce technology jobs. It is difficult to isolate salaries for technology jobs in online retail from broader information technology positions, but the newest survey data from research and consulting firm Janco Associates Inc. shows that through February, annual pay for IT professionals had inched up 2.4% year over year to $81,583, with IT middle managers at mid-sized enterprises getting the largest salary bumps. Total employment in the IT sector has surpassed where it was before the 2008 recession but still lingers below the industry-high levels in 2000, just before Wall Street’s early infatuation with the fledgling Internet sector came to an end.

Meanwhile, the Mercer survey, conducted with the National Retail Federation trade group and which includes data from 228 organizations, finds that the median total cash compensation for a “top e-commerce technology executive” decreased to $250,000 in 2014, down 12.5% from $285,800 in 2013. That 2013 figure represented a 16.4% increase from $244,900 in 2012. And the 2012 median compensation was 8.9% lower than the $268,800 recorded in 2011.

Retailers and e-commerce technology analysts offer differing views of those decreases. One interpretation is that relatively young workers are taking over jobs once held by older and usually better-paid employees—especially at firms where e-commerce technology duties are being put under the umbrella of the chief information officer. As well, more retailers are outsourcing their e-commerce technology needs to vendors; though the percentage of Internet Retailer Top 1000 retailers that report having in-house e-commerce platforms has increased slightly since 2011, from 34.0% to 37.4% in 2013, several top-tier vendors have increased their share of the mid-market. According to Internet Retailer’s Top500Guide.com, eBay Inc.-owned Magento had 27 mid-market clients among the Top 1000 in 2013, up from 11 in 2012. Oracle Corp. had 21 Top 1000 retailers, up from 17 in 2012. As well, a 2014 Internet Retailer exclusive survey found that for those e-retailers adding new features to their e-commerce sites, 69.1% plan to buy technology from vendors rather than develop or operate it on their own. 

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