Lessons From FLOW: Leading Change is the Key to Online Success

In an era of rapid digital transformation, the most valuable characteristic an ecommerce executive can have is an unflinching ability to conceive of, execute and manage change — non-stop, stomach-churning, hyper-speed change.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Of course, not. But it can be made easier through shared wisdom, like that presented by Dean Bowerman, an ecommerce leader who has spent a career helping players like Staples and Rite Aid reach their full potential. Bowerman was the keynote speaker at Signifyd FLOW New York, an evening of community building and knowledge sharing among some of the brightest minds in online retail at the View of the World Terrace Club.

And while Bowerman was the keynote, this was not a lecture. Instead, the dozens of retailers in attendance freely added to the discussion, providing their own inspiration and the questions that produced deeper insights.

It was also a night when the ecommerce community celebrated one of its own —TrueFacet, an innovative online marketplace for pre-owned jewelry and luxury watches. TrueFacet was recognized with the Signifyd FLOW Award for its outstanding customer experience.

FLOW displayed the deep bench of ecommerce leadership

We’re not going to declare FLOW the Woodstock of ecommerce or even the Coachella. But it was an evening  of food, drink, casual conversation and passion for retail that underscored the growing sophistication of the industry and the deep bench of deep thinkers that inhabit it.

Bowerman, currently vice president of digital marketing and ecommerce at Rite Aid, drew on his two decades of retail experience as he sketched out his playbook for instituting and managing change. And while the discussion was much more than a list of bold-faced takeaways could cover, the conversation around Bowerman’s advice for leading change could be boiled down to these:

Survey what you’ve got: Start with the nine pillars required of any successful ecommerce business:

  • Operations

  • Customer service

  • Analytics

  • User experience

  • Site search

  • Merchandising

  • Development

  • Fulfillment

  • Marketing

“You need to have the nine pillars of ecommerce,” Bowerman said. “You need to have all those pillars working. And just view them as your continual to-do list. Each pillar should get better every year.”

Find the right pillar people — lieutenants, Bowerman called them — to run each pillar and help promote their success.

Go deep on examining your nine pillars of ecommerce

And there is nothing like having boots on the ground to evaluate how stable your pillars are and how they can be shored up. Bowerman remembered a time he wanted to better understand what was frustrating customers. What better way than spending time in the customer service center?

“We’d literally embed ourselves,” he said. “I went over there on a Saturday to really understand what the customer pain points were. And you address them, right?”

Understand who knows what: Yes, as an ecommerce executive, online retail is your world. But in an omnichannel era, you might well be working in an organization that has much deeper knowledge and roots in the brick-and-mortar world. Remember that the vast majority of retail sales happen in physical stores and so top executives might well be more focused on in-store than online. Make sure the executive team understands ecommerce and the language of ecommerce.

More importantly, Bowerman said, make sure you understand the language of the executive team. What are the performance metrics that they pay attention to. Capture those metrics from the online side and present them clearly, early and often. Develop a vision for online and lay it out for your company’s leaders.

“You have to be prepared to say, ‘This is my plan. Based on my analysis, this is what you have to do. And I can help you get there,'” Bowerman said.

Tell the ecommerce story — again and again: Online retail is experiencing huge growth and change. The story is not static. Digital transformation is more than just a buzz phrase. It’s a business imperative. Keep that in mind as you tell the story to the executive team.

“It’s helping them understand that paradigm shift, making the digital transformation from the ground up,” Bowerman said. “You have to know the audience. It’s really how good you are at telling the story.”

Be ready for change in the digital transformation era

Remain agile: Ecommerce moves fast. Companies change direction. Don’t design rigidity into your systems. Bowerman used the example of the ongoing debate over build vs. buy when it comes to re-platforming an ecommerce site. It’s not a binary question, he told the crowd at FLOW. While you might buy a third-party platform, don’t think that means you won’t be building, too, Bowerman said.

“You’re going to buy and then you’re going to customize, which is essentially build,” he said. “If you build a platform with mass customization in mind, you can do some things very quickly. And if you lay your foundation with mass customization, your life is so much easier.”

In a sense, Bowerman’s advice about keeping platforms flexible is a metaphor for ecommerce in 2018. Agility, flexibility and choice are functional necessities in an era of digital transformation. But agility, flexibility and choice are broad concepts, almost platitudes.

Bowerman’s advice at FLOW, on the other hand, provided retailers with tangible steps they can take to be successful in the real — and rapidly evolving — world.

Photo by Dag Bennstrom with Dagomatic Photographic for Signifyd

Mike Cassidy

Mike is lead storyteller at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at mike.cassidy@signifyd.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

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