Is it time for the ‘Chief Digital Shopping Officer’?

Businesses around the world have had to manage massive disruption and change in 2020. And the retail sector has experienced more challenges and transformation than most.

Shops have had to deal with closures or implementing new safety and social distancing procedures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile shoppers in lockdown have accelerated existing growth in eCommerce far beyond what would have been predicted by most analysts, even in January 2020.

Monitoring data from thousands of clients across Europe, and seeing the results of 100 million impressions for products every day, has given us useful insights into what online retail might look like post-lockdown. And what may be involved in managing a successful eCommerce business in the future.

Looking at how online shopping is evolving, both from the perspective of retail clients and the platforms they use to attract customers, has prompted us to ask whether there’s a new requirement for retailers. Is this the era of the Chief Digital Shopping Officer or CDSO?

Why the new normal might need a CDSO to navigate it

Online shopping has a very short history compared to traditional merchants and marketplaces. It began in 1979 when English inventor Michael Aldrich connected a computer and domestic telephone line. But the initial effects were limited to B2B applications, and back office operations of consumer retailers.

The growth of consumer eCommerce really started with the mainstream adoption of the world wide web in the 1990s, along with familiar names including Amazon, eBay and Google. Many senior executives in retail will still remember starting their careers before online shopping existed in the minds of most customers, let alone formed a core part of their business.

The Office of National Statistics report on internet retail activity in October 2019 revealed that 87% of UK adults were daily internet users, and the proportion of online spending had grown from 4.9% in 2008 to 17.9% in 2018. This would have seemed remarkable enough, until the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown in the UK.

In April and May 2020, the ONS reports internet sales surged to more than 30% of total UK retail. And that’s echoed in our data on the most in-demand products during the initial events of the Covid-19 crisis, and how that’s evolved over time in areas such as health and fitness

Not only has the relatively young eCommerce sector had to deal with a huge surge in demand. But at the same time, there has been enormous pressure on supply logistics, distribution, and delivery processes. Access to products and materials have been reduced, warehousing has been disrupted, and getting products safely into the hands of customers has never been more challenging.

Many businesses and staff have adjusted remarkably quickly to minimise the impact of the crisis. But with the prospect that things will never return precisely back to how retailers operated before Covid-19, there are new pressures which will have to be dealt with long-term. Especially around the disruption to global ‘just-in-time’ supply chains, and how businesses consider handling outsourcing elements of the online shopping experience.

The opportunity for the Chief Digital Shopping Officer

The growth of eCommerce has happened alongside digital transformation in many other areas of work. And online retailers have been quick to adopt new innovations which impact directly on revenue, whether that’s User Experience, Conversion Rate Optimisation, or Comparison Shopping Services.

But perhaps because of the rate of change, there’s been seemingly less discussion of how business roles need to evolve than in other areas, such as marketing, advertising or even HR.

The defined role of an eCommerce Manager has become mainly focused on conversions, revenue and management of the shopping experience predominantly on a retailer website. And this occasionally also moves into the territory of an eCommerce Director covering areas such as SEO, social media, PPC and retargeting, and CRM.

But delivering modern eCommerce successfully also means co-ordinating supply and inventory management, payment processing, and especially the customer experience around delivery. Your eCommerce manager or team might be seeing huge success in gaining market share at the moment, but if they can’t fulfil that demand, it can be hurting your brand.

We’ve seen how strong voices and champions for eCommerce have helped RedBrain partners navigate the Covid-19 crisis effectively to adapt quickly and minimise losses. However we have seen even successful online retailers close due to lack of supply. With online retail due to continue growing regardless of external events, is it time all businesses formalised a Chief Digital Shopping Officer? Someone, answerable to the board, who can own the entire online buying journey from digital acquisition, to stock availability and fulfillment.  

After all, online shopping has grown consistently between 6-12% every year in the UK for more than a decade. So even if the share of retail sales dips below 30% due to lockdown easing and nonessential shops reopening, it’s likely to be a temporary fall. Especially as many shoppers will continue to feel anxious about indoor public spaces. 

This includes nearly 12 million people aged 65 or over in the UK in 2018, and approximately 2.2 million people highly vulnerable and advised to shield themselves during the Covid-19 pandemic. Which adds up to around 21.3% of the UK population.

So is this the era for the Chief Digital Shopping Officer?

We’re interested to hear opinions from anyone in the retail space, whether or not you’re a RedBrain partner, or have varying levels of experience in eCommerce.

Do you feel online shopping is well represented when it comes to senior management decisions, or could you benefit from someone to champion it across all online retail decisions? 

Or do you feel that the role of digital is overstated, and everyone will be back on the High Street in the future?

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