E-commerce is not a product of the pandemic; it didn't emerge in 2020 and is not destined to become a niche sector when we can go back to in-store shopping without any kind of restrictions. E-commerce is a way of doing business, of moving the market. If anything, the link with the pandemic can be seen from a survival perspective due to a moment of exceptional crisis: for many companies, switching online has meant that they can continue to exist despite the absence of in-store customers.
According to data from the Osservatorio e-commerce B2c, sponsored by the School of Management at the Polytechnic University of Milan and Netcomm, in 2020, e-commerce achieved a value in Italy of around EUR 22.7 billion, up 4.7 billion on 2019: a growth rate of 26%.
These figures and the growth trend have convinced many companies to invest also in new roles. Employment portals present thousands of job offers in the e-commerce sector, where the requirements include knowledge of, expertise and experience in planning a company's online part of the business. Above all for the position of e-commerce manager, a role which it is still difficult to define.
"If a company were to operate only online, the e-commerce manager would be the CEO, which means that they would be in charge of the entire company. Otherwise, they are in charge of the dedicated online business unit," says Marco Biasin, founder of the E-commerce Heroes course and former manager of Frutta Web, the first e-commerce fruit and vegetable business, acquired by Almaverde Bio in 2019.
Their role is to coordinate all the departments, all the functions: managing customer care, carrying out data analysis, devising the strategy and path to be followed, coordinating staff, managing the entire e-commerce project
The new key role assumed by e-commerce has reordered companies' priorities, changing the status and clout that someone like the e-commerce manager has. The main objectives of this role are to increase online sales and pick up on trends in the reference market – whether local, national or global. Knowing how to anticipate, if necessary, emerging new trends in the sector. That's why, in addition to being familiar with data and online tools, e-commerce managers are also required to have management skills appropriate for them to be able to coordinate every area of the company and of the online business.
"We're talking about someone who coordinates all the departments, all the functions: managing customer care, carrying out data analysis, devising the strategy and path to be followed, coordinating staff, managing the entire e-commerce project. Someone who must be able to communicate with all managers of the various specific areas," explains Biasin.
So, this is not someone with just an economics background and nothing else. Of course, analysis skills, the ability to interpret sales performance indicators and everything to do with the strictly commercial side are requirements which are an absolute must. But an e-commerce manager should also have communication, web marketing, managerial and business skills – therefore organisational ability and team-building experience, for example.
The main problem is that there are no specific university courses in this subject here in Italy. Not to mention that there is often a lack of teachers capable of teaching this subject, but only because those teaching at universities nowadays are not familiar with this area of expertise.
However, there are currently not many people capable of presenting such a diverse range of knowledge. This is also because people have only been realising the value that e-commerce can generate for hardly any time. "We are talking about a transformation that was under way even before the pandemic, which has certainly speeded up the process. Apart from all the positive aspects, this acceleration has also created some distortions. Since not everyone is properly familiar with this sector, there have also been people operating in it who not only do not, but cannot have the necessary skills. They are often, for the most part, well-meaning people," Marco Biasin explains.
Nowadays, successful e-commerce managers are those who have first had the opportunity and intuition to enter previously unchartered territory, perhaps even creating their own company, but also making mistakes in their quest, at their own expense, for the best method for generating wealth – or at least for making their business sustainable.
This has been the case from the outset. Inevitably, the e-commerce sector has been expanding quickly at rates which universities and those who should have done training could not sustain. "The main problem," adds Marco Biasin, "is that there are no specific university courses in this subject here in Italy. Most of the time, they are digital marketing courses, but they are not suitable courses for e-commerce managers. Not to mention that there is often a lack of teachers capable of teaching this subject, but only because those teaching at universities nowadays are not familiar with this area of expertise."
As a result, an abundance of private courses have emerged for e-commerce managers. But the importance of working directly in the field is the key aspect, as Marco Biasin explains: "Gaining experience in the field is essential for future managers, having the opportunity to put into practice immediately the knowledge they have acquired, perhaps even making mistakes in the process, but getting involved hands-on.