Updated: April 14, 2023 - 7 min read
Product Management varies from industry to industry, and company to company. If you want to get into a specific area, it helps to be prepared, especially in eCommerce product management.
eCommerce as an industry is huge, and that’s an understatement!
It can feel daunting to step into it as a career. Everyone has a story about someone they know who tried to set up a website selling slogan t-shirts and failed miserably.
On the flip side, there are so many cool brands growing and thriving online. As a career, eCommerce Product Management can be incredibly rewarding.
…if you’re ready to take on the challenge!
What Are the Unique Challenges of eCommerce?
Inspiring customer loyalty
Whilst we won’t go as far as to say that other products have it easy, but it is easier to encourage brand loyalty when your product requires more commitment from the user.
For example, once Apple sells an iPhone to someone, they’ll be using that iPhone for a long time and have spent a lot of money on it. It’s also something that they’ve gotten used to, and the idea of changing to a different brand of phone feels like a lot of effort.
The same can be said for SaaS products, often people get accustomed to working in a certain way and don’t like to feel disrupted.
However, if you have an online shoe store, for example, it’s entirely likely that your customer will come, buy one pair of shoes, and then never come back.
All you’ve gained from that customer is the revenue on a single pair of shoes and maybe some word-of-mouth value.
As an eCommerce Product Manager, it’s your job to understand what could keep your customers coming back for more.
You’re a little fish in a big pond
There are simply far too many eCommerce businesses. No matter what we want to buy, we can find it online and have it shipped to us within a reasonable amount of time.
Not only that, some behemoths have a huge monopoly on the market. Coupled with the advantage of being household names, with free shipping and loyalty schemes, the competition is pretty fierce.
Not only are there more than enough good eCommerce businesses, there’s also a fair amount of scummy ones as well (more on that later!) and you’re all fighting for the same space and the same short attention span.
So, what is the key to surviving and thriving as in eCommerce?
What it Takes to be Kickass at eCommerce
1. Next-level organizational skills
You thought you needed to be organized when you were in charge of just one product! Depending on the size of their offerings, online retailers have to look after hundreds…thousands…even hundreds of thousands!
As a PM it’s your job to make sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes; which means no files, SKUs, or images going missing.
You need to know the best tools for organizing a massive amount of information, in a way that makes it accessible across all departments.
Why is this different from normal Product Management? Well, it is and it isn’t.
All Product Managers need to be highly organized, but in eCommerce you need to be aware of special tools that specifically cater to that kind of business.
For example, you’ll need to pick SaaS for inventory management, automating orders to manufacturers, etc.
Some eCommerce tools you may encounter are:
This can feel like a thankless job, as it’s all the background work that the customers ultimately never see, but your teams will absolutely rely on you for it.
2. A growth-marketing mindset
Marketing really is the ride-or-die for eCommerce. You can’t get away with building a product and then figuring out how to market it at the end, it has to be an integral part of the lifecycle from beginning to end.
You won’t need to design whole email campaigns by yourself, but you will need to have a deep enough understanding of digital marketing to ensure your website is built towards it.
For example, if your website ranks low in search results because you haven’t paid attention to SEO, your business is dead.
Your website/app needs to be more than just a shop, it needs to be an experience that sells itself. You need to build growth loops that keep people coming back for more.
Some eCommerce like Fabletics do this through a subscription model, which naturally keeps people coming back as they’re tied it to an agreement.
You can also create growth loops through a network effect, like allowing people to create their shopper accounts through their Facebook login.
Health and wellness brands like MyProtein increased their customer retention through a membership scheme, where points could be collected through purchases and exchanged for discounts or special products.
So while there are some fairly standard user-retention strategies out there, they’ve almost become expected by shoppers.
You’ll need some creative and innovative thinking to stand out.
3. Mad-scientist testing skills
You’ll have to test, fail, test, succeed, test, test, and test again!
The key to testing successfully is to get your engineering and design teams involved in conversations about customer data.
If you know your customers incredibly well, you might think you need to make decisions in a vacuum.
But the feature you think will increase the number of customers who actually click ‘Place Order’ might look incredibly ugly or ruin the flow. And only your UX and UI designers could tell you that.
Product Management is a risk tolerance exercise, so you need to take risks, try new things, fail a lot to learn what doesn’t work, and keep the things that do.
But that’s all part of being a top Product Manager anyway!
4. Unparalleled trustworthiness
All Product Managers need to be trustworthy. After all, you have to influence without authority and lead with the power of your ideas. If your teams don’t trust your vision, the whole project can be derailed very quickly.
But in eCommerce you also need your product to be trustworthy, especially if you’re not yet working with a household brand name.
Unfortunately, the public psyche is riddled with horror stories of ordering a new bed and realising it’s for a dollhouse. Or waiting five months for a dress to arrive and finding its the wrong colour and smells like rotten egg.
For whatever reason, people are far more wary of ordering physical products, as there’s more room for things to go wrong.
As they’re sitting at the checkout with their credit card in hand, your customers have a lot of what-ifs in mind…
What if it never arrives?
What if I hate it and have to pay to return it?
What if it’s a scam and this $20 smartwatch is actually made of rubber?
What if this whole website is fake and they’re just stealing my data?
You need to make sure every step of the customer journey reassures them. Something as small as weird button positioning can make them think twice.
And speaking of customers, the final thing you need is…
5. A drive to make your customer’s day better
It’s not as simple as getting people onto your site, showing them the products they want, and hoping they like it enough to buy it.
In the current online marketplace, you need to be innovative and find ways to delight.
It starts with the basics. Your website/app must be simple to navigate, fast, and easy on the eye. That might be enough for you to make a few sales if your marketing team do their job right.
But to grow and be sustainable, you need something extra. But how can you do what hasn’t been done before, with so many other places to shop online?
The key to that is getting into the minds of your target market specifically. Knowing what makes them tick and working out what delights them. This will help you find your niche, improve customer retention, and get the brand-loyalty ball rolling!
Updated: April 14, 2023