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Co-located or remote? How to build efficient eCommerce teams and optimize for expense

Are your eCommerce teams set up with efficiency, affordability, and productivity in mind? Or is hitting this trifecta too much to ask? We don’t think so.

It is possible to structure your eCommerce team using a mix of co-located and remote team members, as well as third party service providers to minimize unnecessary costs and increase profitability. Plus, it’s possible to do this while looking after your people and creating an inclusive company culture.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how you can structure your eCommerce team for maximum efficiency while saving more of your hard-earned cash. We’ll also break down some crucial components of a successful eCommerce operation, and explain which you can outsource, and which roles you should keep in-house.

Designing an efficient eCommerce team structure that saves money

Saving money isn’t about short-changing your team or using inferior products. It’s about managing all your assets as efficiently as possible and investing in the people that matter.

Being cost effective isn’t about not spending money, but being strategic and using data to delegate tasks to the right people, or software, in your team. Every eCommerce business needs to tackle three main groups; product, customer acquisition, and customer retention. Many roles will fall under these three umbrellas.

But before we talk about the people you need on your team, and whether they should be co-located or remote, let’s talk about how best to make that decision, since every eCommerce business is a little different.

1. Clearly define your business needs

An effective structure that works for your team should grow organically, based on the needs of your business. Every new role should add value to your business. That’s why before expanding and making new hires you need to define the tasks that get done on a daily, monthly, and annual basis. Then decide whether to hire full-time employees or use contractors.

Success isn’t about team size. Feedvisor found that 84% of Amazon sellers run their business with fewer than five eCommerce employees. Part of that is smart use of software. For example, Opticsrev used Sellbrite, a multi-channel sales management software, to increase the store’s revenue on Amazon by 40% in a single year because it automated the day-to-day low priority tasks.

2. Hire the right people

Whether you work in a shared office or are scattered around the globe, you need to hire people you can trust to get the job done and actively look for opportunities to improve process efficiency.

Not sure how to get the right people for the job? Run a paid test before committing. This lets both you and your potential team member test-drive the relationship and determine whether you are a good fit.

3. Design an efficient onboarding process

Creating a structured onboarding program saves you time and money. Streamlining helps you take a new team member from newbie to veteran quickly and efficiently.

Compile your basic training program for employees. With each new onboarding, you can improve the process until it’s perfected. It’s crucial to be as clear as possible about every step and to understand the challenges of remote employee training.

You may never meet certain employees in person, so it’s important that this is reflected in your program. You need to have a strong brand identity for employees to latch on to so they have a stake in the company’s success.

If a sizeable part of your team is remote, it’s essential to establish clear channels of communication and build bonds between team members. SaleHoo uses a Skype Chat room to keep the team connected and on the same page, while Trello and Graver have virtual coffee between team members.

4. Design a workflow that employees use

No matter the size of your team, the type of products you sell, or where you sell them, you need to set up a clear workflow that’s used by your whole team. To run a successful, efficient, and money-savvy eCommerce team, focus on optimizing processes.

Alexa Scordato from StackOverflow emphasizes the importance of creating a workflow that everyone uses, whether they are co-located or remote. Otherwise, you risk alienating a big portion of your team and disrupting clear communication.

4 Essential tips to structure an eCommerce team

Co-located or remote? How to structure different eCommerce teams to optimize for expense

So how do you structure your eCommerce team? What roles are best suited to being co-located or remote? Let’s find out, as we group them into categories.

Define roles of executive management

In many cases, the founder/CEO can work remotely once a solid workflow is in place. Many of the decisions that executive management makes are conceptual, so they don’t need to be onsite to perform well.

The other key member of this team is a VA. A talented virtual assistant can wear many hats, from keeping the whole team on track to being the first customer service or marketing team-member you bring on board. However, before you hire a VA, it’s crucial to define what tasks they need to handle and what should still get done by the CEO.

Efficient product management

Products are an essential part of any eCommerce business. How your company handles product discovery, manufacturing and acquisition depends on your business model, the type of products, and where you sell them.

Many of these steps can be automated, including inventory management and auto-placing new orders when the inventory is low. But, you’ll still need someone to negotiate with vendors and oversee order fulfillment.

If your business does the majority of its procurement online, then this may be a remote candidate. However, if you need to source local produce it’s a far better idea to co-locate the role.

Handling order fulfillment and distribution

If you do your own order fulfillment through a warehouse, then your warehouse and order fulfillment team will need to be on site. This can get expensive and troublesome though, so using a Third Party Logistics (3PL) provider helps you automate warehousing, fulfillment and distribution without the expense and hassle of managing your own warehouse.

Using a 3PL can also help you fulfill quickly and reliably so that you win the Buy Box across different marketplaces.

Customer acquisition and retention

Your sales, marketing, and customer service team members all fall under this category. With a solid workflow in place, most of these roles can be handled by remote teams. In fact, the remote route lets you cover different time zones and offer round the clock service, without team members working anti-social hours.

Despite the scale, you don’t need a giant team. You could have an experienced sales-marketing manager oversee a team of remote professionals and contract them on an as-needed basis for campaigns. This cuts the cost of keeping staff on hand while giving you access to experts on demand.

8 roles in an eCommerce business you can outsource (and 4 you shouldn’t)

We all know eCommerce is a fast-paced industry, with high-speed changes to marketplace regulations and best selling practices. Keeping your eCommerce business healthy requires a lot of moving parts working together seamlessly. As a seller, you’re already time-poor, but it isn’t impossible to find the time to grow your business.

Large eCommerce businesses often have most roles in-house just because their sheer volume requires it. For example, Deliverr seller etailz has more than 200 employees, even though they use Deliverr for fulfillment they do most else in-house.

However, if you’re a small to medium eCommerce business owner and want to keep your operations lean (less than 20 people), there are roles you can outsource…and a few you shouldn’t.

Outsource these eCommerce roles to take back your time

1) Sourcing/Manufacturing

Your big decisions should be made in-house, but it’s simply too difficult to have one person fly around the world to discover new items your eCommerce business could offer. Outsource product discovery and testing instead, and use platforms and partners who can help narrow down items, and connect you with manufacturers. From there, your internal decision-makers can research which items may be a good fit for your brand and market.

Here are some companies that can help with this:

2) Accounting and taxes

Managing finances for your eCommerce business can take up a huge amount of your time, especially as you try to keep track of multiple sales per day, costs and profits, overall revenue, which expenses to file, and more. Not only that, it’s a complex process with plenty of nuances. Accounting and taxes are important to get right, so invest in professional partners who can handle this for you.

Here are some companies that can provide this:

3) HR

Hiring, onboarding, talent management, and payroll take up a huge amount of time, and that’s time you simply don’t have when you’re running a business. If you have a small growing eCommerce team, you should consider outsourcing human resource management so you don’t have to worry about timely payroll, insurance, recruitment, and the like.

Here are some companies that can provide this:

4) Fulfillment

Fulfillment is complex and hard to do well. As you expand, you’ll start getting more and more orders. Those are orders you need, but won’t have the time to fulfill, especially if you want to grow your company. That’s why you should always outsource your fulfillment process to companies that have the right equipment, technology, geographical locations, and assets needed to provide seamless order fulfillment.

Here are some companies that can provide this:

5) Returns

For a return to go smoothly, multiple moving parts need to work together well. Having a good return policy and well-oiled returns machine is critical to conversions and customer retention. Instead of trying to handle this in-house, at the mercy of buyers’ whims and without any control of when you have to kick into gear, you should outsource your eCommerce returns process to a reliable partner that can ensure customer satisfaction.

Here are some companies that can provide this:

6) Repricing

Staying on top of your competitors’ pricing is impossible to do manually. When you expand to multi-channel eCommerce, you’ll have to monitor hundreds of similar listings per marketplace in order to stay on top of your own sales. You’ll need to balance profitability and competitive pricing to appear before your potential customers, before other similar products. Don’t put this burden on yourself when technology can do it better and faster.

Here are some companies that can provide this:

7) Listing optimization and management

Managing your listings across different marketplaces manually opens up the door to human error and plenty of headaches. Automate it with software instead, and rely on technology to make sure you don’t oversell, stock out, or get overwhelmed by multiple SKUs on multiple marketplaces.

For listing creation, you can work with a copywriter or optimization expert to help make sure your listing content itself is optimized for marketplace search engines, and grammatically correct.

Here are some companies that can provide this:

8) Graphic design

If you don’t have enough work for a full-time, in-house graphic designer, then outsourcing simple design tasks like removing the background from your images and designing your storefront could be easily outsourced. However, if you send out frequent marketing materials, like emails, blogs, and other communications that could benefit from custom graphics, then consider hiring someone full-time.

Here are some companies that can provide this:

Keep these roles in-house for a healthy eCommerce brand

1) Leadership and decision-makers

Your leadership and management team should be in-house. They should have intimate knowledge with your products, as well as your company’s vision and mission. When your decision-makers are on the same page, they can drive your company forward cohesively. Having project managers in-house is important as well, so they can orchestrate all of the processes you outsource.

2) Customer support

Customer support is vital to have in-house. When you have internal customer support teams, they have time to learn the ins and outs of your product and process. In time, they’ll become familiar with common issues that pop up, get to know your loyal customers, and know how to troubleshoot within your systems.

3) Listing creation

When it comes to creating your actual listings and checking them for accuracy, you should have someone on your team putting them together. As mentioned above, you can hire an editor and SEO expert to check for grammar and optimization, but someone internal should always double-check that everything is accurate.

4) Photography

If you own your brand, you should be taking professional photos. You can hire a photographer to do this, but your company should take lead in explaining what you need, meeting marketplace requirements, and selecting the best product photos.

If you source products, ask your manufacturer or the brand you’re purchasing from for professional photos you can use in your listings.

Tip: Never “borrow” photos from other similar listings, as you could face copyright infringement charges and risk getting banned from a marketplace.

Knowing what roles you can outsource in your eCommerce business and which ones to keep in-house will help you run an agile, effective, and efficient growth machine. Similar to delegation, you know it’s time to outsource when there are other services that can do it better than you could in-house. Guard your time like the valuable resource it is, and outsource intelligently for a better, more successful eCommerce business.

Setting your eCommerce teams up for success

A successful eCommerce team structure is clearly defined yet flexible. It’s built around a specific workflow and designed to help you fulfill orders as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Hiring efficient team members and providing effective onboarding will determine your level of success. With the right structure, you can enjoy heightened productivity while saving money, whether your team is co-located, remote, or both.

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