What Is E-commerce? A Peek at the People and Technology That Make It Happen
Business is nothing new. People have been buying, selling and trading goods for thousands of years in order to meet their needs. But that doesn’t mean the way business is conducted hasn’t seen changes. We’ve gone from people bartering and trading livestock for furniture to instantly purchasing more detergent with the press of a button.
One of the biggest shifts we’ve seen is the advent and mass adaptation of buying things online. E-commerce is still a mystical concept for many. Most people enjoy the luxury of online shopping but have no idea how the process actually works.
There’s a lot more that goes into a functional e-commerce site than you probably think, according to Todd Millecam, CEO of SWYM Systems. When you pull back the curtain, you’ll find a whole army of people and technology that make it all possible.
“For properly programmed websites that intend to serve a function, the amount of engineering that goes into them rivals, and in some cases, exceeds that which goes into an automobile,” Millecam says.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the tech professionals who help make the magic of e-commerce possible.
5 Tech professionals who help power a successful e-commerce site
It takes a whole host of tech pros to build and run a successful online retail platform. Check out this list of essential roles to learn more about what they do and why they matter for online retailers.
1. Web developers
What they do: Web developers are responsible for building the websites online retailers call home. These professionals are generally split into two groups: front-end developers and back-end developers. Front-end web developers work closely with designers to create visually appealing and easy-to-navigate layouts. Back-end developers are the ones who make sure the site functions as intended and communicates with servers and databases properly.
Why they matter in e-commerce: An online retailer’s website is equivalent to a traditional retailer’s brick-and-mortar storefront. In these traditional retail settings, a lot of time and energy is spent on designing the layout of the store and finding the optimal placement of products.
The same strategy is required for the digital equivalent. Web developers are responsible for making sure products can be found in a logical location and doing what they can to nudge shoppers toward making a purchase. The popularity of online shopping has raised the importance of a web developer’s work, according to Beecher Bowers, owner of Shenandoah Websites.
“Your customer doesn't have a face to put with the name,” Bowers says. “You have to build relationships with your repeat customers by offering them a predictable experience every time.”
Knowing that location isn’t a factor for online shoppers, e-commerce sites need to place an extreme focus on user experience. The consumer has a handful of other retailers available to them with just a few clicks of the mouse. So if products are hard to find, an image is slow to load or the site is difficult to navigate, they will take their business elsewhere. Web developers play an integral role in earning those transactions.
2. Database administrators
What they do: Database administrators are responsible for the upkeep, storage and maintenance of the data required to run a sophisticated online retail website. They are tasked with keeping data inputs clean and consistent, managing access to this data and the back-up and recovery of stored data.
Why they matter in e-commerce: E-commerce websites rely heavily on databases to function. These databases primarily cover two areas: customer and inventory data as well as the contents of a site. An online retailer may have thousands of products, and every one of those products is likely to have a corresponding page with product details like price, dimensions or color. Having a database of this information makes things easier for web developers. Rather than manually inputting this information on each page, they can design page templates that automatically draw information from the database.
These databases also allow retailers to store and keep track of important customer order information like names, addresses and products purchased. Additionally, they allow the retailer to store and access important information regarding product inventory. A well-maintained database will help ensure a company is not selling a product they no longer have in stock.
3. Network engineers
What they do: Network engineers, sometimes called network architects, are responsible for the design and implementation of the network infrastructure that keeps an online retail site running. Senior network engineers are often tasked with more of the high-level planning, while less-experienced engineers are typically responsible for the actual implementation.
Why they matter in e-commerce: The short answer for why network engineers matter? You can’t sell products if your store is closed, whether it’s due to a plumbing issue or a network issue.
“There's a bit more pressure on site uptime in e-commerce than elsewhere because there's the overarching belief that downtime means lost revenue, which is sometimes true,” Millecam says.
When your entire business model is based on a working computer network, a well-designed and maintained network is critical. Network engineers play a key role in ensuring this pipeline of important information is built in a manner that meets a retailer’s needs and with minimal disruption.
4. Information security analysts
What they do: Information security analysts are the people responsible for defending against hacks and other attacks that may compromise the security of customers’ sensitive data. They monitor networks for breaches, safeguard against attacks and perform penetration tests—attempts to hack or compromise their own network—in order to reveal potential vulnerabilities.
Why they matter in e-commerce: E-commerce websites collect a staggering amount of valuable financial and personal information. This means they’re a prime target for hackers. Online retailers need their customers to feel safe and secure during the purchase process, and it’s an information security analysts’ job to do everything they can to prevent a breach of both network security and consumer trust. After all, if online retailers are limited in their ability to make a personal connection with their customers, they’re less likely to be forgiving of mistakes.
5. Mobile application developers
What they do: Mobile app developers are the people responsible for the programming and design of mobile applications. Like web developers, they are tasked with creating visually appealing, functional and easy-to-use apps to help facilitate sales. Common programming languages used by mobile app developers include Objective-C, C++, Swift and Java.
Why they matter in e-commerce: While a relatively new development when looking at the big picture of the retail industry, having a functional website is now a fairly low bar to clear. Retailers have turned to mobile apps to tap into the rapidly-growing market of mobile device users.
At their most basic level, retail mobile apps recreate the desktop experience in a way that is optimized for users viewing from a mobile device. More sophisticated apps can include personalized shopping experiences based on user data, provide ways for customers to try before they buy, offer discounts or even improve in-store shopping experiences.
The future of business
For many of us, online shopping has become second nature. A few well-placed clicks and a bit of typing and before you know it, you’ve got a delivery headed toward your doorstep. But as you now know, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes building and running a successful e-commerce site. Every day teams of IT, web development and programming experts are working to leverage technology to drive sales and create an ideal customer experience.
This effort isn’t limited to just e-commerce. Technology professionals play an increasingly important role in the operations of businesses across the globe, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down. If you think you’d be interested in pursuing a career that mixes business and technology, learn more about the options in our article, “6 High-Demand Hybrid Jobs That Straddle Business and Technology.”
A successful online retailer relies on more than tech pros. If you’d like to learn more about the other people, tactics and systems that keep online business booming, check out our companion articles: “What Is E-Commerce? The Side of Online Shopping You Never See” and “What Is E-commerce? An Inside Look at What Happens BEFORE You Buy.”