Top 10 Innovative Companies In Retail

Article tiré du magazine Fast Companies.

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Amazon’s warehouse

No industry has been more transfigured in the past year than retail. Stores now behave like websites, tracking customers as they browse. American malls have pretty much died (but may be on their way back to life). And in some parts of the country, you can have your milk and eggs home-delivered, along with your new ipod, on the same day. Those who lead the field strike the right balance between physical and digital, experience and affordability, and convenience and quality.


For being the Warby Parker of Warby Parkers. It’s not just a company—it’s a category. As the eyewear maker opened four more brick-and-mortar stores, closed a $41.5 million round of funding, collaborated with the likes of the musician Beck, and expanded its staff to 300, it set the standard for merging online and real-world commerce while maximizing its cool. This inspired other e-commerce startups to explain themselves as “the Warby Parker of [fill in the blank]”—from Cory Vines (gym clothes) to True&Co (bras)—either as an easy shorthand or to just ape some of Warby’s glow. While Warby Parker was once the « Netflix of eyeglasses, » it’s not anymore. For Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, cofounders and co-CEOs, it was about getting consumers to jump ship from the typical experience of paying $600 and picking from hundreds of frames. « We came up with this idea where we ship five frames and you have five days to try them on with no obligation to buy, » Blumenthal says. « That to us was a perfectly designed solution. It got over this issue of fit, so people would have the confidence to buy. »


For leaving its competitors in the dust. Last year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told Fast Company, « The balance of power continues to shift toward consumers and away from companies. » One exception: Amazon itself, which amasses more power daily. Membership of its two-day-delivery program, Amazon Prime, grew by millions in 2013; its grocery-delivery service expanded to Los Angeles and San Francisco, hooking customers into regular delivery habits; and its Kindle Fire HDX, with an instant tech support feature, became an attractive alternative to the iPad. Competitors such as eBay try to compete, but Amazon’s Sunday-delivery partnership with the U.S. Postal Service–and its lofty promise of 30-minute drone delivery by 2015–put it far, far ahead. Yet Bezos still believes that it’s day one for the e-commerce giant. « There’s still so much you can do with technology to improve the customer experience, » he told Fast Company in September. « That’s the sense in which I believe it’s still day one, and that it’s early in the day. If anything, the rate of change is accelerating. » But with the combination of Amazon Prime, AmazonFresh, and the widespread fulfillment centers, it looks like Amazon is still going to be near impossible to catch.


For rebuilding malls to meet cultural needs. Traditional malls in the U.S. are in decline, but advertising exec turned developer José de Jesús Legaspi has revitalized 10 failing properties by converting them into Hispanic cultural centers–leading to a 30% increase in income and foot traffic. « We create one-stop shopping for the entire Hispanic family: grocery stores, dental care, medical care, immunization, clothes, entertainment, banking, and the DMV, » he says.

In 2013, the company filled nearly 240,000 square feet of empty retail in an Atlanta mall–attracting Planet Fitness, Ross, Shopper’s World, and a slew of local merchants. Hispanic households buy 20% more shoes and clothing than non-Hispanic ones, Legaspi says, so the mall’s store mix is geared accordingly. Boots, quinceañera shops, and country-western stores are popular. Easter, Christmas, the Day of the Virgin of Guadelupe, and other holidays are celebrated there. Bishops and priests lead services, including the Passion of the Christ, and Sunday sales events start after 3 p.m. so as not to conflict with Mass.

Because Hispanic families often shop as a unit, Legaspi says, « The malls have to have something for five generations of family. » Sometimes that means plenty of places for the elderly to sit and visit–inviting them to stay for hours while their children browse. It also accounts for the extrawide aisles to accommodate these family clusters in popular spots such as the butcher counter, where carving up a whole pig is a demonstration of quality.


For meticulously cultivating its brand to become the world’s iconic American clothier. J.Crew’s quintessentially American aesthetic—which flawlessly melds runway-worthy design with middle-class value—went east last year, with the company opening its first stores outside the United States. Its overseas march began with a 17,000-sqaure-foot location on historic Regent Street in London, and the outfitter reportedly has its eyes set on Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia. The global expansion comes on the heels of a 10% revenue increase in 2013, which many would credit to the revered partnership of CEO Mickey Drexler and Jenna Lyons, president and creative director.


For deploying smart mobile solutions to aid its customers. According to Walmart, its app-wielding customers make twice the shopping trips per month and spend 40% more than non-app users. That’s a clear sign that the retail giant’s efforts to use mobile to improve its business in the digital age is working. Just a couple of innovations from its WalmartLabs include the ability to guide customers (via GPS) directly to products in its cavernous stores, and even let them skip the checkout line and scan and pay for items with their smartphones. Its stores aren’t Amazon-proof yet, but they’re getting there.


For expanding its business model to become retailers’ best friend. In keeping pace with the revved-up world of e-commerce, eBay’s ambitious hyperlocal push has allowed it (and its retail partners) to remain plausible shopping options for consumers spoiled on convenience. Its one-hour delivery program, eBay Now, expanded to metropolises like New York, Chicago, and Dallas, while the company looked abroad (and even to the cosmos) for growth. It recently teamed with U.K.-based store Argos to let users pick up online purchases in stores, and last summer it announced PayPal Galactic, its plan to allow people to buy things from space.


For upholding its legacy of impeccable design while catering to the digital millennial. While the style of Burberry’s classic trench won’t change, the people wearing it have—and the London fashion house has dedicated itself to changing with them. Its retail stores put the brand’s tech-friendliness on display with mirrors that interact with products via RFID chips. And when Burberry wanted to shoot a runway show with a set of not-yet-released iPhone 5s, Apple—at the time, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts’s soon-to-be employer—readily handed them over. Besides bridging the gap between classic fashion and innovative retail, Burberry has also found new life in Asia, as revenue soared 14% in the region (thanks, in part, to a newly constructed outpost in China).


For selling radical transparency as the new black. Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat scour trade shows to populate Zady, which tells shoppers where in the world their clothes are made, along with background information on who makes them. The company, launched in August 2013, highlights and sells items from smaller brands, such as fine leather goods from Detroit-based Karmo Studio, to larger ones, such as New York–based clothier Steven Alan. Each item featured on Zady is ethically sourced and manufactured, and almost all of the respective companies call the United States home.


For creating a one-stop shop for browsing high-end boutiques around the globe. Farfetch’s site is almost like a retail portal to the rest of the world: Customers can shop the streets of Milan or New York, all from the comfort of their own home. The London-based site, which offers products from more than 300 boutiques in 24 countries, nabbed a $20 million boost in funding last year—led by fashion-bible publisher Condé Nast—to further expand its reach in 2014.

10. MACY’S

For mainstreaming the notion of everywhere retail. In what it preached as “omnichannel” retail, Macy’s spent the better part of 2013 completely transforming its supply chain—making an impressive 500 stores perform double duty as fulfillment centers—to ensure customers could order and receive products from any store location, in any variety, and, when possible, on the same day. At last count, 10% of online sales are fulfilled from Macy’s stores.


Fast Company Staff