Tech Leaders Discuss Ecommerce Market, Future

In the constantly shifting landscape of ecommerce, it can be tough to keep up.

During a discussion sponsored by the Women’s Tech Council, three leaders in the industry talked about the ways they try to stay ahead of the curve—and compete with other tech giants, like Amazon.

Stormy Simon, president of, said the industry has advanced to the point of allowing unprecedented opportunities for drawing customers. That advantage is half of a double-edged sword, with the other half being the increasingly specific demands of shoppers, she said, particularly those who are younger.

“It used to be someone would look for ‘red couch.’ But Millenials, these dang kids, they look for ‘red couch, three cushions, buttons on the back,’” she said. “They have these eight-word searches. They know what they want.”

Ease and speed of use also matter to consumers more than ever, said Denise Leleux, a vice president at eBay who runs the internet marketplace giant’s Global Customer Service team. The company has been carefully combing through its processes to make sure nothing adds friction to the customer service experience, she said, including everything from technical errors or glitches to things that just might be unclear to the customer.

When things don’t work seamlessly, she said, customer dissatisfaction is expressed in numbers.

“Our last app was a little slower—we’re talking milliseconds, but we did notice a dropoff [of use], and we’re fixing that,” she said.

While both and eBay have reached a point in their businesses where they’ve become household names, eight-year-old has had to use a somewhat different approach in gaining its loyal customer base. Co-founder Jana Francis said especially when trying to contend with ecommerce giants, it’s important to market what makes a site different rather than trying to compete head-on.

Eighty percent of’s traffic comes from people who have bought something from the site before, Francis said, and the site tries to continuously court those customers—and attract new ones—with the idea of product discovery. Sites like Amazon depend on a customer knowing roughly what they want before they log on, she said, but has sought to make the shopping experience more about discovery than destination with limited-time-only daily deals.

“What [Amazon] did was master the shipping experience, and the market,” she said. “It’s what Walmart did to brick-and-mortar, and Amazon’s doing that with ecommerce.”

Simon seconded Francis about marketing a site’s differences, not similarities, to another.

“We’re not going to be Amazon; we’re Overstock. We’re not going to do what they do—we made that decision early on,” said Simon. “I think that helps guide your decisions and your innovations, and guides where you want to go as a brand.”

Leleux said regardless of a site’s size or goals, the single best thing to focus on is the customer experience.

“Always keep the customer at the heart of what you’re doing,” she said. “If you put the customer at the center, a lot of the problems [you encounter] will melt away.”

The marketplace has changed rapidly in the last few years, and doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon, all three agreed. Simon said online retailers should take Wayne Gretzky’s famous advice—skating to where the puck will be, not where it has been—with the customers being the proverbial puck. The customers of tomorrow, she said, are children today.

Francis said she thinks in the not-too-distant future, customers will look back on the way ecommerce is today—looking on a screen at two-dimensional pictures of a product and waiting for them to arrive a few days later—will seem antiquated.

“Shopping online will be very interactive—it might be live,” she said. “It’s going to be a completely different experience.”