Top Ten Retail Companies of 2012 is compiled from a list by Fast Company.
For creating a virtuous cycle of commerce interwoven into its technology. The Kindle Fire is the purest expression of tablet as consumption engine. It deftly uses free TV shows and movies to drive Prime memberships that in turn fuel greater retail sales. It also invented a market for 10,000-25,000 word stories that didn’t previously exist with its Singles program. The Fire also represents the purest expression of Amazon’s vision: For customers to acquire or consume any content, physical or digital, in as seamless a fashion as possible. In that, the Fire is undeniably a triumph of instant or almost instant gratification.
For creating a new kind of mobile, social, and local retailer and streamlining point-of-sale payments. When Square launched in October 2010, it was a mere dongle that plugged into iPhones, enabling anyone–especially small businesses–to accept credit card payments. No more. Square has since set out to transform the entire payments process, launching an iPad app designed to replace the cash register and point of sale credit card equipment and processing and its Card Case app brings the future of the digital wallet to smartphones today without having to wait for a tap-and-pay system of embedded chips and readers.
For its aggressive pursuit of sustainability. As part of its unprecedented Common Threads initiative, the outdoor-apparel company launched an eBay storefront where Patagonia owners can sell secondhand clothing. It’s also expanded into music downloads that benefit environmental charities and even a sustainable salmon jerky in an effort to promote sustainable causes. These initiatives themselves don’t make Patagonia any money, but the resulting brand burnishing improves sales every time.
4. Kiva Systems
For powering faster e-commerce shipments thanks to its autonomous robots. Kiva’s order-fulfillment wizards are now roaming the warehouses of such retailers as Toys ‘R’ Us and Timberland, two of the 24 new customers Kiva picked up in 2011 on its way to doubling revenue for the second year in a row. The machines intelligently organize warehouses to be more efficient–even stacking shelves vertically–enabling more accurate orders and less expensive shipping, even for common grocery or drugstore items. “Low-margin goods are the next wave in ecommerce,” says CEO Mick Mountz. “For that to happen, you need efficient pick, pack, and ship like Kiva offers.”
For letting customers tap directly into UPS’ sophisticated logistics system and control where and when packages get delivered. Its new service My Choice gives customers who’ve signed up a heads-up when a package arrival is imminent the next day. That alone (there are also premium services) helps UPS avoid missed deliveries, saving them money, yes, but also driving greater loyalty both to the end user and the retailer shipping the package. My Choice, then, is UPS’ nod to its e-commerce business. Acknowledges Geoff Light, UPS’ vice president of new product development, “Our business has shifted in correlation with what’s happening in retail, toward e-commerce.” More than 30% of UPS packages now ship to consumers.
For converting shopping into a social star trip. Users of this shopping platform follow “curators” like Padma Lakshmi, Molly Sims, and Shaquille O’Neal to populate a Twitter-like feed of recommended products. “Why don’t we build a network where people can connect to people who inspire them?” says OpenSky CEO John Caplan. “Tom Colicchio for food, Cynthia Rowley for clothes. People who live in their passions. Those people would every day be recommending new products to you–daily bolts of inspiration.” When OpenSky started, users were connected to 6 curators on average. Now it’s 18.
7. Fast Retailing
For fashioning Uniqlo into America’s Next Big Retailer. The new $450 million, 90,000-square-foot global flagship store–which is actually the largest retail outlet ever opened in New York–is just the beginning: Uniqlo’s goal is to have 200 stores in the United States and U.S. sales of $10 billion by 2020.
For building a business out of “underutilized assets” and dragging the car companies along with it. The peer-to-peer car-sharing market made a landmark deal with GM to let millions of GM owners with OnStar rent out their idle cars. RelayRides claims the average vehicle generates $250 in rental fees a month, with an owner keeping 65% of the total.
For democratizing and automating ecommerce tools. Shopify offers pre-made templates that allow people to quickly and easily set up an online store without needing to know how to code a website. Shopify creates tools and templates to power online storefronts. (Notable clients include Rovio, Angry Birds’ parent company, and GE.) Shopify has grown to almost 20,000 storefronts in 88 countries, which did a combined $275 million in online sales, up from $120 million in 2010. Up next: Making it as easy to buy sell to mobile customers.
10. Warby Parker
For doing the seemingly impossible: making possible online prescription glasses sales. How? High design and Zappos-style customer service. The New York-based team designs its own glasses, selling them for $95, and it recently expanded into sunglasses ($150). The company keeps prices low by ordering from manufacturers and selling directly to consumers, avoiding expenses like brand licensing fees and retail markups (a la LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, and others). So far, it has sold more than 100,000 pairs of glasses and says it’s profitable.