Why eCommerce Departments Are Starting to Look Like Tech Teams

Innovative eCommerce teams have begun tearing down conventional team structures and rebuilding leaner, more agile ones in their place. This is how they’re doing it. 

eCommerce team at work

A shift has started to take place within some major retailers.

Since eCommerce became the dominant retail channel, companies have begun devoting more resources and attention to creating highly engaging, sophisticated, and inspiring digital customer experiences.

But as many traditional retailers embarked on this journey, they realized their old team structures weren’t able to support the level of speed and efficiency they needed — not if they wanted to thrive in a fast-paced digital world.

As a result, some eCommerce teams have begun tearing down conventional team structures and rebuilding leaner, more agile ones in their place. Much like in software development, these teams are structured based on domain and role, and rely on agile methods like scrum to execute work.

By becoming digitally-oriented on the inside, retailers have the power to create better digital experiences for customers.  

For Long-Standing Retailers, Digital Transformation is Ongoing

Direct-to-consumer brands and retailers that emerged amid the eCommerce boom have technology — and the methods for developing it — built into their DNA. Traditional brands and retailers do not. 

Although “old” retailers began the process of digital transformation years ago, that process didn’t end once their websites and apps went live. Today, the challenge of providing resonant and competitive digital experiences that meet consumers’ ever-rising standards remains. 

Unless companies create an internal structure that supports rapid and innovative digital development, it will be difficult to offer the sophisticated digital experiences shoppers crave.  

However, simply tacking on digital processes, roles, and tools to traditional retail teams doesn’t cut it. Instead of being lean and agile, teams end up becoming clunkier, slower, and kind of chaotic. eCommerce companies must become digital-first from the inside out, and then build the rest of the business around that — not the other way around. 

ecommerce team r &d

Retail Teams Are Taking the Lead From Dev Teams

By looking and behaving like software programming teams, which are organized based on specialty to enable rapid development and release of new features, eCommerce teams can also position themselves to achieve these benefits. 

Instead of running one big team that tackles all new features in a piece-meal fashion, it’s more effective to restructure eCommerce professionals into domain-specific pods. With specialized pods, you can divide, manage, and execute work more efficiently. Each pod should have it’s own goals, targets, KPIs, processes, leadership, and work in coordination with the other pods to push out new features and updates at the end of each sprint (typically two weeks long). 

Rebuilding eCommerce Team Structures

Here’s an example of what the teams could actually look like. Each domain would have its own pod (for example, search and discovery, payments, and service), which continuously work on developing and implementing new features and tech solutions. 

Here’s a breakdown of how to structure pods and how they facilitate new feature development and deployment.

  • Team Leader: At the helm of each pod, a senior leader, often an SVP, is responsible for keeping a high-level view of the customer experience. They perform end-to-end customer journey mapping to evaluate each new idea and identify how it could add value to the customer experience. Once the SVP validates a new feature idea, they send it to IT to determine the scope.
  • IT/Tech experts: Among the IT experts, there is an IT architect who assesses the project’s scope and determines how to break it down into two-week sprints. There is also a scrum master, who leads the sprints and daily standups, and ensures the rest of the team is adhering to the scrum principles. Finally, there are the developers who actually build the new features.
  • Digital product managers: These folks are responsible for managing the work in each sprint, as well as allocating hours and resources. They also define success metrics, provide a roadmap for turning the vision into reality, and ensure both the customer needs and business objectives are addressed.
  • Design and UX: The front-end designers are responsible for translating new digital capabilities into compelling and engaging customer experiences. They are the ones that create the look and feel of the website and app, and seamlessly incorporate each new feature into the customer journey. 
ecommerce team

How to Transform Your eCommerce Team

Overhauling engrained team structures, processes, and attitudes isn’t easy, even if it’s for the sake of efficiency and progress. But strategic brands and retailers that recognize the value in a dev-style approach have made this change because the advantages it affords them are worth it.

Here are three tips for transforming your team.

1. Expect a transition period. If you want to transform your eCommerce team structure, the first step is understanding that the required changes won’t happen overnight. The shift requires a transition period, in which new teams, goals, KPIs, and roles are defined.

2. Provide formal training. Both new team members and seasoned employees require formal training and onboarding. Adopting an agile methodology such as scrum comes with a learning curve, but once everyone understands their role and expectations, it won’t be long before your pods are working together like a well-oiled machine.

3. Focus on culture. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this shift demands buy-in from everyone who will be involved. It requires understanding that the old way of working no longer suits the goals and needs of the company in the digital era. By cultivating a culture that embraces the essence, structure, and methods of tech teams, eCommerce teams can truly become digital-first.  

Keep Up With the Evolution of eCommerce

If the thought of overhauling your department to enable more efficient eCommerce development seems like a nightmare, consider that this change will probably only become more difficult over time. 

For brands and retailers that maintain traditional team structures and processes, competing with tech-savvy, digital native companies will become more challenging in the future. Compared to companies that are built to develop quickly, “old school” retailers will be unable to offer sophisticated digital experiences that can evolve at the same pace. 

Change is hard, but it’s worth it.