Strategy Centre

Ecommerce As Chess

23 June 2015

Ecommerce As Chess

Chess is a game I sometimes play in my spare time — mostly online these days or against a computer. It is a game that is synonymous with strategy and anyone who plays it to a reasonable level will understand why this is.

If you are a chess player, you can get a clear idea of your opponent’s ability from the first four moves that they make — and the speed and confidence with which they make them. You can tell what sort of a game you are in.

The importance of strategy

In chess, as with some other games and sports, it is simply not possible to win without having the right strategy. There is no element of luck. A stronger player will always beat a weaker player — and usually very quickly.

For two really strong players at grand master level, even when games can go either way, the best strategist will win the series. The players will constantly adapt their strategy to the current state of the board. They will know what moves to make by reading the board and each other.

I see some parallels between chess play and ecommerce strategy.

In ecommerce there are an infinite number of positions and sequences of actions to take. Delivering good results on the ecommerce ‘board’ requires expertise, insight and left and right brain activity — plus a lot of innate ability that simply cannot be taught.

Some job roles involved in selling are fairly concise — there are very clear inputs and outputs. To give a very basic analogy, someone in Tesco’s working the till has to:

  • Scan through the items,
  • Process payments,
  • Occasionally deal with a defined number of non-standard events, such as a bar code not scanning.

In this case the number of inputs and outputs is limited. This is the opposite of an ecommerce role.

Becoming an effective ecommerce strategist

In the IRP view, the Ecommerce Manager’s role is primarily a selling role. And sales come down to one main thing: implementing a strategy to increase sales and keep profit margins up.

As with chess, this involves a lot of left and right brain activity. Due to the infinite number of possibilities and sequences of moves involved, if you want to be successful in ecommerce you require learning and experience to build a framework toolkit of understanding. You also need to have an innate ability to be a great strategist and to learn the sequences of moves to make.

Becoming an effective ecommerce strategist is a long process. Getting involved in ecommerce generally requires no serious qualifications but the reality is that not everyone can get far down the road.

To be successful, you need to have great technical knowledge about how an ecommerce platform works and about the functionality that is available.

With that foundation in place, you need an understanding of the separate but complex elements of Traffic, Conversion and Retention.

You must also be able to really understand who the customer is — a customer whom you have never seen or discussed their buying activity with in detail.

Beyond these basics, to be truly successful in ecommerce you need to have a deep knowledge of:

  • What moves to make
  • The sequence in which to make the moves
  • How to constantly adapt the strategy

And just like chess, you have to make the right moves decisively at the right time.

The only way to do this is to have a very deep understanding of the game.

Additional Reading


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