In this tech job, “the difference you make gets right to the customer”

Why e-commerce is such a rewarding area of technology

By Ian Evans - September 11, 2020
Alex Craig, VP Technology, quote
Alex Craig, a VP for Technology at Elsevier, is based in Oxford, UK.

For Alex Craig, e-commerce isn’t just about products on a web page – it’s about getting customers what they need quickly and smoothly. That’s especially essential as the pandemic hammers supply chains around the world. As Alex, a VP for Technology at Elsevier, explained:

One of the projects we’ve been working on recently has looked at our back-office fulfillment integration with Amazon, used to support direct-to-customer shipping. As you can imagine, a lot of distributors are finding the supply chain challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At Elsevier, because we’re providing medical texts, reference books and so on, demand for the information we offer is extremely high. Being able to meet that demand quickly and effectively is really important.

Ordinarily, books would be processed through Amazon warehouses; now they needed to be shipped directly to the end customers from Elsevier. That small-sounding change represented a fundamental re-imagining of Elsevier’s supply-chain through Amazon.

In response, the technology teams Alex works with, based at Elsevier’s Oxford tech-hub, jumped to the challenge. Working with complex and highly integrated systems spanning everything from our warehouse and inventory management to our financial management systems and the external Amazon merchant platforms, they made the necessary changes to support this new fulfillment model in record time.

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For Alex, that fast pace and immediate impact represents one of the most satisfying elements of working in this area of tech:

One of the most interesting things about the e-commerce space is that it’s a fast-moving area of tech. There’s a lot of room for innovation. At the same time, there’s a lot of established technology and operational standards. Because of that mix, you can be very effective in an e-commerce team very quickly – it’s not this exotic area where it takes six months just to get to grips with the basics. The other point about this immediacy is that the difference you make gets to the customer really fast.

To further illustrate the point, Alex noted the work being done to migrate all Elsevier’s regional e-commerce bookstores to a brand new Adobe Magento platform enables a wealth of new features designed to make finding and buying books even easier:

It’s the kind of thing that’s especially satisfying because it’s directly measurable. You know you’ve made a difference because you can see people’s purchasing experience improving – through how fast they find what they’re looking for to the effectiveness of recommendations. Getting that immediate feedback as to whether you’ve done a good job is important. And because of the customers we serve, you know that through your work you’ve made the life of someone working at, for example, a small clinical practice that much easier.

In terms of the day-to-day satisfaction of his work, Alex noted that it’s that moment that a change goes live that he finds most rewarding. “It’s that go-live moment where you see something you or your team has created making a difference for a customer or a user,” he said.

And because of the pace of e-commerce, it’s a feeling that comes often.

It can be as simple as seeing a small code change go live that shaves milliseconds off the time to load a page in a browser; or it can be as fundamental as switching to an entirely re-engineered technology platform. But the consistent part is that moment where you see what you’ve done making a tangible difference for people in the real world.


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Ian Evans
Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier in 2011 from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.

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