E-Commerce - Harvard Business School MBA Program


Course Number 1975

Associate Professor Thales S. Teixeira
Fall; Q1; 1.5 credits
14 sessions
Assistant Professor Donald K. Ngwe
Spring; Q4; 1.5 credits
14 sessions

Career Focus

This course is intended for students interested in either working as a manager in an e-commerce company or entrepreneurs building their own e-commerce startups. We will study the challenges of (i) creating (ii) growing and (iii) optimizing for profitability an e-commerce business.

Educational Objectives

The percentage of products that consumers and businesses are buying online rather than offline is growing in virtually all categories. The two main reasons that cut across all categories have to do with convenience and better price. The challenges for e-commerce players have been how to scale up and be profitable. In that regards, many new business models that did not exist just 5 years ago have emerged to profitably sell online. This course is intended to (a) help students conceptualize the various different e-commerce business models that exist, as well as build novel models. In addition, students will (b) learn how to grow quickly and/or profitably an e-commerce model. Cases in many industries will be discussed (e.g., mass merchandising, apparel, beauty, furniture, food, consumer services, software, media, etc.) and in various life stages of the firm (e.g., startup, early traction, fast growth, maturity).

Course Content and Objectives

The topics relate to the three major classes of e-commerce based businesses: e-tailers, i.e., online retailers of goods and services NOT made by the firm (such as Amazon), e-manufacturers, i.e., online sellers of goods and services made by the firm (such as Harrys.com), and two-sided marketplaces, i.e., online matchmakers between supply and demand for goods and services (such as Etsy).

Questions that will be addressed:

  • How to acquire customers cheaply?
  • How to practice growth hacking?
  • How to craft a path to profitability?
  • How to deliver assortment?
  • How to deliver low price?
  • How to extract value from consumers?
  • How to deliver convenience?
  • How to create value for manufacturers?
  • How to extract value from manufacturers?
  • How to compete with Amazon?

Questions that will not be addressed:

  • How to manufacture products to sell online?
  • How to build and organize warehouses?
  • How to contract with shipping, payment and related firms?
  • How to build a website?

Final project:

Students will be required to work in pairs to develop a novel e-commerce business model in any industry of choice and in any portion of the consumer value chain. During the case discussions, we will discuss critical e-commerce components such as customer acquisition, growth hacking, creating value for manufacturers, extracting value from consumers and from manufacturers, delivering assortment, delivering low price, delivering convenience. In their projects, students will have to use these components interchangeably to build a novel e-commerce business a la Legos style. This structured and generalizable process will prove to be invaluable for students that will become managers or entrepreneurs in e-commerce.