Online shopping seems so easy. Just click on the picture of a cashmere sweater and type in a credit card number -- and you've just avoided a trip to the store.

The smooth shopping experience is probably due to the efforts of an e-commerce director, a new kind of marketing and merchandising expert that is in huge demand for a variety of Washington area companies."You make sure customers don't have any roadblocks," said Jason Edwards,

e-commerce director for Vitamins.com Inc., a Falls Church-based nutritional supplements retailer.

The field is so new, however, that many retailers have difficulty finding qualified applicants.

"The e-commerce director is a marketing guy as well as a technician," said Donald A. Dowden, president of the Drexel Hill, Pa., research firm Dowden & Co. "He wears two hats, so he's a fairly tough guy to find."

Desperate for e-commerce experts, retailers are sending out headhunters and swiping each other's stars. Edwards, for instance, is being recruited even when he's recruiting his own staff. The headhunters he calls for help tell him who's available. Then they switch subjects, asking, "So, are you happy?"

Few e-commerce directors can complain about their take-home pay. Even on the low end, East Coast employers offer annual salaries averaging about $76,100, Dowden said. To retain these valuable employees, companies often include perquisites such as stock options and bonuses worth 24 percent of their annual pay.

The job can be incredibly demanding, however.

Edwards works 12 to 14 hours a day and has had little time to make friends in the area since he moved here four months ago from Denver.

"It has been pretty tough," he said. "I haven't gone out and done a whole lot."

Vitamins.com executives also wanted Edwards to start as soon as possible to help the retailer bring more products online and develop marketing relationships with other companies, such as drugstore retailer Phar-Mor and bookseller Varsity Books.

When Vitamins.com came calling, Edwards was working as a global forecast manager for Lucent Technologies Inc. while completing his MBA at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Edwards took his first marketing job in 1992 as a consultant for a small consulting firm in Denver, making about $25,000. Two years later, he developed an online strategy for a cosmetics manufacturer that never went anywhere.

But he didn't give up. He jumped again to become the new business development manager at a Boulder health products company called Amrion. There, he gained more experience developing an online site. Then it was on to Lucent -- a less-demanding job he took so he could resume his studies.

"The best strategy is to go out ... and volunteer to develop [companies'] Internet initiatives," Edwards said. "That's how I did it. Wherever I went, I said, `I'll put in the extra hours and help oversee it.' That was a good way for me to learn. And it wasn't costing the company anything."

ON THE JOB: E-commerce director

Salary: $76,100

to $111,600

Education: MBA preferred.

Experience: The ideal e-commerce director has some fundamental marketing experience, has basic knowledge of computer programming, and can write up a business plan.