Digital Commerce Re-Tales: Russ Dieringer

The Digital Commerce Re-Tales series highlights personal and professional stories from the people and brands defining the direction of digital commerce. While each profile is as unique as the figures themselves, they share common themes such as learning to navigate the ever-changing nature of the eCommerce industry.

“I never really thought I’d be trying to write a solopreneur newsletter, but here I am.

Is this the end all, be all? I mean, we’ll see!”

Although Stratably founder Russ Dieringer believes we should all be more open to the inherent serendipity in our career paths, he also puts a lot of intention behind his company’s weekly newsletter for “time-starved” digital commerce professionals, delivering bite-sized takes on market trends and industry updates. 

“I try to make [the newsletter] as digestible as possible. Imagine if you were the VP of eCommerce inside of a consumer brand. What are the challenges those individuals have? What are the questions they have? What do they need to understand to stay on top of the market? What do they need to share with their teammates from a market development or a research perspective? That’s sort of the lens through which I approach everything that Stratably creates. 

As I’ve learned, and this is really the plague of whatever industry you’re in, there is such limited time to read and consume insights that if you drag on, people aren’t going to engage with it. They might save it for later, but later never really comes. So it’s about just being respectful of people’s time and trying to be a useful resource so that when you land in their inbox they don’t feel overwhelmed. Rather, they feel like, ‘I can open that up and digest that pretty quickly.’”

Russ honed his writing skills while earning a bachelor’s in economics at The College of Wooster.

“I had such a phenomenal undergrad experience … One of the key elements of that education is being able to write well. They have this senior thesis project which is really well recognized, so I am just so grateful that I developed that ability. You know, I write every day for my work, but that’s a skill that pretty much all of us need even if you’re just writing emails. You’ve got to be clear. You’ve got to be concise.”

He then earned a Master of Science at the University of Rochester, as well as a CFA along the way. Both experiences helped to shape how he communicates through his unique analytical lens. 

Russ on falling in love with economics…

“Understanding both micro and macro economics, broadly speaking, what that sort of taught me is to think about whatever topic we’re talking about in the sense of markets, and how are these companies competing with each other? What are the forces that are pushing on, in this case, retailers? What are the forces pushing on big CPG? How are those things ultimately going to shake out? What does that tell us about the future? What are the underlying financial drivers of all of this, because that’s pretty much what ultimately drives a lot of these strategies and whether or not they’re successful.”

Armed with a natural curiosity and an open outlook, Russ first joined the Cleveland Research Company in 2009 conducting investment research as an Equity Research Associate in the tech industry.

“Interestingly enough, it was around smartphones. I think the iPhone came out maybe a year or so before that and that whole industry completely changed. I was too inexperienced to recognize that, but companies like Research In Motion, which made Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola … Those were all companies that I was researching, in addition to Apple. And within a very short period of time, those companies were essentially defunct. That taught me just how rapidly things can change in technology when there’s a disruptive, new entrant that has real product market fit. And it’s hard to recognize it when you’re in it. In the world of digital commerce, we have new things arise all the time. And some are going to take off and some aren’t.

One of the things I tried to take on in my position in the industry is, you know, what is actually important versus what’s not? How do we come to that conclusion? How do we develop ways to test these new ideas without over committing, but also not ignoring the stuff just because it’s small today. There’s so much innovation happening and that’s what makes the industry a lot of fun to try to cover.”

On having a pulse on the eCommerce industry…

After exploring a path as a Senior Investment Analyst, Russ returned to CRC in 2015 to begin his digital commerce career as the Executive Director of the eCommerce Council. 

“The idea at the time was, you know, the retail world is changing and there’s a big player, Amazon. It seems like there’s a lot of questions about Amazon from consumer brands, and maybe we can help [them] with useful research and insights. And that really got me started in this world of eCommerce where I was applying all of my research and analysis capabilities and experience and writing capabilities to this new part of retail that was emerging.”

Amazon had already been around for about 20 years at this point, but Russ was energized by all of the many remaining unknowns.

“I mean, at that time, many [consumer brands] might have had one person working on the account and it was typically not very important to their overall strategy. Obviously, that’s changed over the years. The industry has come a long way, but the industry still has a long way to go and it’s partly because the goalposts are always moving. So there’s never going to be any point in time where we all feel like we’ve arrived and digital commerce is static and we have it all figured out.”

On digital commerce goalposts…

So what’s the next big thing in eCommerce?

“One of the things I’ve been bullish on for a while, but I’m going to continue, is I think social commerce is a really big thing that is coming, because of the structural forces in the industry. So because of the privacy initiatives, because of the death of the cookie, and what’s happening with digital advertising, these social platforms essentially need to have commerce integrated into their platform, because otherwise that feedback loop of measurement and targeting breaks down. So I think there are industry forces specifically at play today that weren’t necessarily there a few years ago that are going to drive these social platforms to figure it out. It hasn’t really happened yet. 

And even when we talk about the digital shelf in the industry, most of us aren’t including social platforms within that definition. But, you know, maybe we should. I think we have a long runway to go with social commerce. I don’t think it’s going to be super meaningful in 2022 or 2023 especially to the big consumer brands, but I think those platforms are going to figure it out. I think they’re going to be important sales channels to be a part of in the future. 

And so maybe we’ll talk about Facebook, like we talk about Amazon today. Now, that’s a little bold. It’s a little bold. Maybe that’s too far. But I do think social commerce is important. And, you know, a lot of us in the industry on eCommerce teams, we’re not really focused on those channels today.”

On structural forces and social commerce…

An abundance of these kinds of insights are part of what led this inquisitive one-man band to strike out on his own in 2021 to found Stratably, a research-based educational resource for modern retail professionals.

“I never really thought that I’d be doing this type of work, per se, but I found my way here. And I think that’s kind of common. From a professional standpoint, while we want to have sort of a linear view of a career and how we’re going to go from A to Z. I think that we should instead view this as a path that we’re currently on, but there are a lot of different exciting things happening in the world that we could also be a part of. And let’s be open to those possibilities and let’s be open to examining what’s going to challenge us, make us uncomfortable, reward us, not push us too far, but push us enough. For a lot of people, like the ones you’ve interviewed in this series, finding their way to eCommerce was never a part of the plan, but look how cool it’s turned out for so many of these individuals.”

On being open to serendipity in our careers…

Not surprisingly, Russ views starting Stratably as a career turning point and is glad to have seen the serendipity in the opportunity to go solo.

“You know, I left something that I had been a key part of building and people really loved what I was fortunate enough to have been a part of there. And so to make the decision to walk away from something to go into something that you’re starting from scratch … the opportunity cost of what I could be doing was very high. Getting the conviction to do that or talking myself into doing that was the biggest professional decision that I’ve made to date just in the sense of being willing to take risks; being willing to believe in yourself in order to go out there and do something that you’re not seeing in the market. You think it might work, you don’t know. The market is going to be indifferent to you, mostly. Right? If it’s good, they’ll buy it. They’ll follow you. They’ll subscribe. If it’s not, they’ll ignore you.

That’s the thing about it. We’re living in a time of constant change, so I think we just have to be open to that and accept that that’s the type of environment we’re in and just, you know, have a little bit of serendipity kind of guide us in our careers.

There is no one right or wrong decision because you can’t live multiple lives. You choose this path and you go down that path, but you can always change. It’s just about accepting that it’s a big world and there are a lot of great paths you can follow.”

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