The 10 Most Admired Retailers for 2019

Tim Denman
Editor in Chief
a man wearing a suit and tie

There are few better metrics of success than the opinions of your peers. The individuals you work side-by-side with and compete with have a greater understanding of you and your business than anyone else.

For more than two decades, Fortune has been publishing its annual report on the World’s Most Admired Companies, with a focus on how the world’s top organizations are viewed by their contemporaries.

To compile this year’s list, Fortune once again partnered with Korn Ferry, a global management consulting firm, which has conducted the research for the report since 1997.

To determine the best-regarded companies in 52 industries, Fortune asked executives, directors, and analysts to rate enterprises in their own industry on nine criteria, from investment value and quality of management and products to social responsibility and ability to attract talent.

To select its top 50, Fortune asked nearly 4,000 executives, directors, and securities analysts who had responded to the industry surveys to select the 10 companies they admired most. They chose from a list made up of the companies that ranked in the top 25% in last year’s surveys, plus those that finished in the top 20% of their industry. Anyone could vote for any company in any industry.

The full results are available here. Below is a quick look at the 10 highest ranked retailers in the report.  

Apple. For the second straight year Apple finished atop Fortune’s ranking. In fact, the technology manufacturer and retailer finished in first place in every category in its industry categories including innovation, people management, financial soundness, quality of products, and global competitiveness. The Apple brand is synonymous with quality hardware and innovative software for both consumer and enterprise devices.

Amazon. Amazon has disrupted and taken over the retail industry like no company to come before it. In just over two decades the online giant has grown from startup to a retail superpower. The retailer’s meteoric rise is due in large part to its commitment to putting the customer first, a commitment that has paid off with steadfast shopper loyalty. The retailer claimed the number two position in this ranking for the second straight year thanks to a first place finish in the Internet service and retailing industry segment.

Starbucks. Keeping with the trend among the top finishers in Fortune’s report, Starbucks finished in fifth place for the second year in a row. The worldwide coffee giant has a massive following of loyal coffee drinkers that have incorporated their cup of Starbucks into their daily routine. Despite its massive popularity across generations and geographic borders, Starbucks continues to innovate to improve the coffee buying experience, with a focus on mobile order and payment technology that allows customers to skip the checkout line.

Costco. Costco has carved out a large piece of the membership warehouse market thanks to its buy-in-bulk savings and constantly changing merchandising mix that keeps shoppers coming back for more. In addition to its unique business proposition, the big box retailer is admired by both customers and industry insiders for its treatment of its workforce. Associates are offfered an above average hourly wage, health insurance, retirement savings plan, and more. The retailer moved up one position in this year’s ranking to claim the number 12 positon.

Nike. Nike jumped up three spots year over year to claim the 13th position this year. The sportswear apparel manufacturer and retailer is known across the globe for its commitment to providing quality merchandise. Over the past few years Nike has focused its efforts on its digital firepower. It has developed and deployed a host of cutting-edge technology designed to take the digital experience to new heights, and its efforts have paid off handsomely with double-digit digital sales growth.

Nordstrom. While much of the department store segment has struggled to retain market share in the digital age, Nordstrom has emerged as an omnichannel leader. Its commitment to digital services has helped the retailer increase digital sales by double-digits. Over the next five years, Nordstrom's CapEx plan of $3.2 billion, or 4% of sales, is earmarked to support investments in digital capabilities and new market opportunities. These innovation efforts have helped spur Nordstrom up the rankings from its 28th positon last year to 20th this year, thanks in part to stellar results in the quality of products, innovation, people management, and quality of management categories.

Home Depot. Home Depot is the go-to place for everything home improvement. Its massive stores are the backbone of the enterprise, and the retailer is investing heavily in its digital capabilities to improve the customer experience both in-store and out. Home Depot is a little more than a year into a three-year "investing journey" with more than $11 billion earmarked for modernization and experiential investment, including $5 billion for store refreshes and new builds. The home improvement juggernaut finished in first place in the specialty retailer ranking thanks to first place finished in the innovation, people management, social responsibility, long-term investment value, and quality of products/services categories. The retailer finished in 21st place overall.

Walmart. When it comes to retailing might, it doesn’t get any bigger than Walmart, but that doesn’t mean the retail goliath doesn’t have room to improve. Walmart has been engaged in a multi-year battle with Amazon for the hearts, minds and wallets of today’s digitally-focused consumers. While the first few years of this battle was one sided, with Amazon securing win after win, key strategic investments and acquisitions for Walmart has helped to level the playing field. Walmart came in 25th place overall in Fortune’s ranking, up one position from its finish last year. However, in the general merchandisers’ segment Walmart really shined, earning top three finishes in the people management, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, financial soundness, long-term investment value, and global competitiveness categories.

Target. Target crept up Fortune’s ranking this year, securing the 32nd position, following a 38th place finish last year. To help maintain its position in the big box general merchandise category the retailer is in the midst of remodeling more than 1,000 of its retail stores across the U.S. to meet growing shopper demand for an evolved customer experience, but no two stores will look alike. The retailer has developed a bucket of next-gen features that designers can pull from depending on individual store location, demographics and footprint. In Fortune’s ranking the retailer earned first place finishes in five categories in the general merchandisers segment: innovation, people management, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, and quality of management.

Alibaba. The only non-US based retailer in the top 10 is Alibaba. The Chinese e-commerce giant finished in 34th position in the prestigious ranking. It is a little surprising that China’s largest online retailer and one of the world’s biggest companies finished in 34th place, a likely explanation is that most of Fortune’s survey respondents were US based.

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