E-Commerce - Harvard Business School MBA Program


Course Number 1975

Assistant Professor Ayelet Israeli
Spring; Q4; 1.5 credits
14 Sessions

Career Focus

This course is designed to address the challenges of (i) creating, (ii) growing, and (iii) optimizing an e-commerce business for profitability. It is appropriate for:

  • Managers in companies with an e-commerce presence;
  • Entrepreneurs building online startups;
  • Consultants engaged with e-commerce businesses; and
  • Investors seeking to evaluate the potential of new business models.

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 prices. The challenges for e-commerce players have been how to scale up and be profitable. Many new business models that did not exist as recently as five 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 an e-commerce enterprise quickly and profitably. 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 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?
  • How can incumbent firms compete with new business models?

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 groups to develop a novel e-commerce business model in any industry of their choice and in any portion of the customer 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. Through their projects, students will use these components to build a novel e-commerce business. This structured and generalizable process is designed to aid students for careers in e-commerce.