As businesses seek to capitalize on the online retail momentum generated in recent years, what management changes are needed to enable a culture of excellence that drives direct-to-consumer e-commerce success?
Speaking at a panel discussion I moderated at the Ecom Africa conference held in Cape Town last month, AutoTrader CEO George Mienie discussed the business transformation of a successful print business into a robust online automotive platform that is now 30 times bigger.
Dismantling corporate bureaucracy
For AutoTrader’s print publication, the Internet offered endless possibilities, but the move to digital required a structural overhaul of the organization. “We had to stop acting like a printed corporate bureaucracy. We had to flatten a lot of hierarchies and management structures,” Mienie said.
The company moved to open-plan offices, and Mienie and the rest of the management team moved upstairs from their corner office, working alongside everyone else.
“We had to change the communication within the company. Often bureaucracies are top-down communication type businesses, so we have instituted a principle called bottom-up communication. This policy has become a key area of focus for AutoTrader and has encouraged employees at all levels of the company to communicate openly even with senior management.
“You didn’t have to go through management, systems and processes. You could just communicate,” Mienie said.
Zama Jugar, head of partnerships at What3words, the creator of a proprietary geocoding system used in delivery and navigation, echoed Mienie’s sentiments about the need for leaders to establish open communication channels so that innovative ideas can emerge from anywhere in the organization.
“Listen to your colleagues who might report to you and keep an open line of communication with them, as they often have great ideas and different approaches to doing things. Maintaining that transparency as a leader is really important,” Jugar said.
At e-tailer OneDayOnly, director Laurian Venter recalled a time nine years ago when the daily deals site was just a small startup, renting three offices in an advertising agency, with a someone who works out of their parents’ garage on everything from packing packages to sourcing and customer service. “We had to evolve massively, continuously,” she said.
Fast forward to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting e-commerce boom, she explained, “It was a time of rapid growth and change in the business and we had to rush and catch up on what was going on. We had to build strong systems and a strong platform that could handle the traffic, and make sure we had a strong marketing strategy…”
Now, with a head office in Cape Town and two warehouses in the country, OneDayOnly is ready for the next stage of growth, having revamped its website to be more customer-focused, moving to cloud computing and launching a new customer service center.
Grant Oliver, Head of e-Commerce at Nestlé South Africa, explained how the food and beverage giant has positioned itself for the growing relevance of e-commerce while ensuring its e-commerce unit operates in harmony. with the rest of the company.
According to Oliver, to harness the opportunities of digital and e-commerce in a large organization, you need management buy-in. “They say it takes a village to raise a child, well, it takes a whole company to do e-commerce too,” he said.
He added that e-commerce needs to be “on the agenda” at meetings and should be represented across all departments of the business, including finance, supply chain and customer management, with team members in each area to champion it.
“As the maturity of the e-commerce market evolves, don’t be afraid to change the structure. To avoid solos, e-commerce and digital need to be part of the conversation,” he said.
Google: friend or foe?
Addressing how to prioritize investments to position a business for accelerated e-commerce growth, Miene said every e-commerce player needs to realize that Google is their competitor.
“If you get most of your traffic and conversions from Google, you are making yourself vulnerable because that can be taken away from you in an instant if Google decides to enter your niche. The way to combat that is to build a brand,” he said.
Too many companies focus on immediate retail, Mienie said, “and unless you’re in the background to build your brand, you put yourself in a vulnerability.”
Discussing the talents and skills that are attractive to companies looking to build their capabilities and competitiveness in the e-commerce space, the panel agreed that while knowledge of software engineering, coding and data analytics feature in Topping the list are the soft skills that often lead to the best hires.
“Very often we employ people with an amazing attitude and character rather than skills because so many skills can be taught. People who have resilience and adapt, that goes a long way,” Venter said.
Jugar commented, “I would add creativity and problem solving – those are two essential things outside of the technical team. In all departments, you need to have people who are ready to solve problems and come up with creative solutions. You have to work with people who think outside the box. »
Oliver weighed in saying that at Nestlé they are looking for an entrepreneurial spirit. “These are people who see their work as a small business and want to grow it. People who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, who aren’t afraid to learn from their mistakes, and who aren’t afraid to manage upwards if it’s in the best interest of the client.
Watch or listen to my full discussion with the panel above.