Even though e-commerce has become central to most Americans' lives, secure online shopping has only been around since the early 1990s. While name brand catalog companies courted customers on subscription services like Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online, upstart retailers branched out on a still-new network called the World Wide Web. Today, it's easy to take Amazon and eBay for granted. Still, familiar names like Wal-Mart and Target have crept up the charts of the most-visited Websites in the United States. Today, e-commerce isn't just about building new businesses, it's about elevating existing companies to meet the expectations of demanding consumers. That's one reason why earning a PhD in e-commerce can help you climb the corporate ladder in a variety of industries.
During the early days of e-commerce, old-line retailers often scoffed at the rag-tag teams of programmers and entrepreneurs holed up in Manhattan, Silicon Valley, or Seattle. As the "dot-com bubble" burst at the turn of the century, eager startups discovered that building brands was no match for earning revenue. While some e-commerce site owners turned their garages back into places to store their vehicles, successful companies leveraged the best practices of their teams. Business schools jumped on the bandwagon, using case studies to illustrate the distinction between true innovation and reckless spending.
Typical Doctoral Degrees in E-Commerce
- PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
- DBA (Doctor of Business Administration)
In the years since the "bubble" burst, an on-campus or online PhD in e-commerce has come to symbolize a dedication to ongoing development with the insight of a traditional business school education. Although very few schools offer a dedicated PhD in e-commerce, many colleges and universities have integrated Internet business into their DBA and PhD programs. As with other graduate business programs, the degrees awarded often reflect either a focus on academic theory or on hands-on practice. Schools award a Phd in e-commerce to graduate business students who have spent most of their academic careers on research and analysis. Colleges and universities award DBAs to students in applied business administration programs. Both degrees are equally impressive in the eyes of corporate recruiters, who consider personal experience as well as education when making hiring recommendations.
E-Commerce PhD Program Specializations
Earning a campus-based or online PhD in e-commerce isn't just about learning the technical side of running a virtual storefront. Site managers and department heads require broader skill sets, now that banks, insurance companies, and travel agencies offer their own secure online transactions.
- Logistics. Programmers and marketers may get most of the attention from the business press, but logistics managers make the hard decisions that keep large enterprises moving. A PhD in e-commerce with a strong logistics component can help future corporate leaders learn about supply chains, demand modeling, and inventory strategies. E-commerce logistics managers also review the provisioning of data centers and server equipment, requiring them to feel comfortable on the loading dock as well as the boardroom. Online e-commerce programs can help logistics managers find better jobs, to the tune of almost $70,000 a year and up.
- Technology Management. The collapse of Internet business models in 2000 and 2001 caused many academics to study the relationships between traditional managers and their new-school technical teams. In the past decade, many PhD programs have evolved training tracks dedicated to helping old-school corporate leaders learn how to manage highly creative programmers and designers--and qualify them to earn over $100,000 a year.
- Retail Marketing. Although retail marketing has long been a staple of fashion industry education programs, a PhD in e-commerce takes this specialty into new territory. Graduate degree candidates can learn how to integrate direct marketing via e-mail and social networking into seasonal campaigns. Students also learn best practices from the design field that influence how shoppers make online purchases. Experienced retail marketing managers who participate in graduate e-commerce programs can qualify for jobs with a six figure salaries.
- Risk Management and Financial Planning. Now that Internet business has matured, most companies require leaders who understand how to model long term financial risk. On-campus or online, a PhD in e-commerce can expose you to the types of technical training necessary to weigh the short-term benefits of marketing campaigns and infrastructure expenses against ultimate revenues and profits. A skilled financial manager with a risk management background can earn over $100,000 a year.
How to Select Doctoral Degree Programs in E-Commerce
Most candidates for DBA or PhD programs in e-commerce have either attended business school in the past or earned a master's degree in a related field, such as information technology (IT). Applying to doctorate business programs requires an understanding of your ideal career path, familiarity with the competitive nature of business school, and the desire to explore uncharted territory. By following three basic steps, you can prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed. The steps below are outlined for PhD programs, but also apply to DBA programs.
Step 1: Start with a big list of graduate e-commerce programs.
This might sound like an unusual step, since only a few accredited colleges and universities offer a PhD in e-commerce. If your career goals involve becoming a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO) for a company with strong online ambitions, you may want to consider graduate business administration degrees that include e-commerce concentrations. This strategy will make your search a little longer at first, since you'll need to investigate how well these programs integrate online business practices into their degree paths. At the same time, you'll open yourself up to a selection of schools that broadly matches your overall needs for accessibility and affordability.
Goal: Create a long list of campus-based and online PhD in business programs that include strong e-commerce foundations while remaining accessible and affordable.
E-Commerce Foundations: Now it's time to whittle your list down. In addition to programs that specifically offer a PhD in e-commerce, review schools with strong track records of producing online business leaders.
- Course Mix. Many colleges with online e-commerce programs expose students to both engineering and business school courses.
- Alumni. Mentorship is essential for a successful career in e-commerce. Schools with strong alumni networks can help cultivate the hands-on experience and the connections required for long-term success.
- Faculty. A program offering an online PhD in e-commerce may enjoy an edge in this department, since adjunct faculty can lead lectures and respond to bulletin board postings from their own offices and boardrooms.
- Guest Lecturers. Prominent business leaders and entrepreneurs enjoy speaking at graduate e-commerce programs with strong track records. Online PhD programs often integrate guest interviews as live chats or podcasts.
Accessibility. Unless you plan to take the next few years off from work and family to earn your PhD in e-commerce, fitting your degree program into your life should be a major concern.
- Scheduling. Whether you prefer to follow a rigid schedule or learn at your own pace, it's important to identify the kinds of graduate e-commerce programs that set you up for success.
- Learning style. Studies show that adults often learn more effectively through new experiences rather than through lectures. Ensure that schools on your short list meet your own learning needs.
- Affordability. Even though a PhD in e-commerce may help you qualify for a six-figure salary, it's important to find a program that fits within your current budget.
- Scholarships and grants. Many schools are still growing their online e-commerce programs, allowing you to leverage your experience into a potential grant at some institutions.
- Other financial aid. Accredited colleges and universities can connect you to sources of state and federal grants and loans.
- Tuition reimbursement. Many employers prefer to cover the costs of tuition instead of doling out larger raises.
Resources. Even though a PhD in e-commerce might seem hard to find, these resources can help you uncover graduate programs for your short list.
- Online Research. It makes sense to use the Web to learn about graduate e-commerce programs. WorldWideLearn offers comprehensive online college research resources, including details on schools that offer an online Phd in e-commerce and executive education options.
- U.S. News & World Report. Many college admissions officers point to this newsmagazine's annual rankings as a definitive guide to PhD programs.
- Business Networking Groups. Whether you prefer MeetUps or TweetUps, you can learn more about graduate e-commerce programs by interacting with recent graduates or current students at local events.
Step 2: Eliminate graduate e-commerce programs that don't fit your needs.
Once you have opened up your list to include DBA and PhD programs that specialize in online business administration, you can dig deeper to narrow down your choices. According to veteran career counselors, the best graduate e-commerce programs should be able to point at specific results while accommodating your own goals.
Goal: Rule out PhD programs that don't account for your specific career goals or your experience level.
Finding PhD Programs that Fit Career Goals. An online PhD in e-commerce won't help you land your dream job if prospective employers don't see its value. Look for two signs that companies will understand the significance of your career training.
- Accreditation and certification. Traditional employers prefer to recruit graduates from business schools that have been accredited by the Association to Advance College Schools of Business (AACSB) or other recognized bodies. Online e-commerce programs also provide exposure to global technology certifications, especially those involving financial security and customer privacy.
- Job placement rate. Though most online PhD in e-commerce programs are still relatively new, their recent graduates will have built a foundation of strong performance in the job market. Career counselors can show you where graduates work and what many of them earn.
Matching Business Ph.D. Programs to Your Experience Level. Many graduate e-commerce programs can customize course lists and assignments based on a student's work experience. Leveraging your on-the-job training can help you get even more from a PhD program.
- Check for business degree prerequisites. You don't always need an MBA to earn a PhD in e-commerce. However, schools may ask to see your transcripts from related bachelor's and master's programs to ensure that you can perform well in a doctorate degree program.
- Review any required placement exams. When business schools offer graduate e-commerce programs, they often require applicants to take the GMAT or the GRE. However, some colleges and universities waive these requirements for applicants with demonstrated skill and experience.
Resources. Learning more about online business can help shape your college short list.
- Admissions counselors. Admissions offices can connect you with faculty, students, and alumni to get their perspective on an emerging program and on the job market for graduates.
- Industry trade publications. Insider websites and newsletters highlight the topics and the certifications a prospective PhD program should cover.
- School matching services. WorldWideLearn offers information request and school matching programs that can connect you to program administrators.
Step 3: Apply to graduate e-commerce programs that fit your life and learning style.
Every PhD program is a little bit different. Once you have narrowed your list to a handful of schools, you can spend more time uncovering two or three schools that offer the closest to your ideal learning environment.
Goal: Meet with representatives and students from the remaining schools on your list to determine which PhD programs have earned your formal application.
At this stage in the process, finding the right college or university involves reaching out to faculty, staff, and students for personal insight. Whether you prefer to meet face-to-face or choose to use e-mail or social networking tools, it's important to discover whether you will fit in to a program. Online PhD programs often appeal to e-commerce professionals, since they offer flexible participation guidelines while maximizing hands-on learning. If you prefer in-person interaction, ask students of online PhD programs about networking opportunities to determine whether a campus-based program might meet your needs more fully.
Resources. Double-checking your list one last time before making formal applications can save you time and money.
- Campus calendars and Websites. Review published information about graduate e-commerce programs to ensure that you apply only to schools that match your enthusiasm and involvement levels.
- Blogs and social networks. Most participants in PhD programs create online journals to complement their academic research. Find them on Google, on Twitter, or on Facebook and ask about their experiences so far.
How a Doctorate in E-Commerce Changes Your Career Track
Established companies place more trust in a professional with a PhD or DBA in e-commerce from an accredited business school than they do in a prospective hire with less formal training. Fewer companies build their own e-commerce solutions from scratch these days, making training in broader business principles more important than the specific ability to develop secure code. As competition for top e-commerce job intensifies within every industry, a doctoral degree in e-commerce provides both measurable skills and significant personal connections for ambitious online professionals.
For programmers and software engineers, an online PhD in e-commerce can provide the skills required to cross over into formal management positions in traditional companies. Likewise, veteran corporate leaders looking for new challenges can use graduate e-commerce programs to challenge their current perceptions and to make themselves even more appealing as candidates for CEO, CFO, CIO, and CTO positions.
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- United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Computer Systems Design and Related Services," Mar 12, 2008, Career Guide to Industries
- United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Financial Managers," Dec 18, 2007, Occupational Outlook Handbook
- United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Logisticians," May 04, 2009, Occupational Employment Statistics
- United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Marketing Managers," May 04, 2009, Occupational Employment Statistics