Retail’s 7 Most Innovative Companies

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

Ongoing investment and the innovative use of cutting-edge technology is often the difference between success and failure in retail today. Only those retailers that are able to continue to evolve the shopping experience to meet consumers’ ever-changing demands will take a leadership role in the industry and stand the test of time.

To uncover which companies are the setting the innovation standard across the globe, Fast Company examined more than 350 organizations and ranked their most notable innovations over the past year and the direct impact those innovations had on business success.

The resulting “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” list is a cross industry ranking of these innovations’ impact on business, industry and the larger culture. The full ranking is available here. Below is a quick look at seven hot retailers that made the annual report.

Apple. Since its founding over four decades ago, Apple has been on the cutting-edge in the highly competitive consumer electronics space. In addition to setting the pace for personal computing, mobile electronics and wearable devices, the Cupertino, CA based tech leader has helped revolutionize the in-store retail experience. By arming its associates with mobile devices and eliminating the traditional cash wrap from its stores, Apple provided one of the first true success stories for the store of the future. The electronics manufacturer and retailer continues to innovate with both its hardware and software, launching the immensely successful iPhone X as well as its ARKit, which has spurred a new wave of third-party augmented reality innovation and more than 2,000 AR apps in the Apple App store. Fast Company Ranking: 1.

Amazon. Amazon is the 10,000-pound retail gorilla. It has turned the industry on its head, and forever changed consumer expectations. Thanks to Amazon’s commitment to developing cutting-edge technology consumers can now place an online order and have their purchases on their doorstep in as little as a few hours in some markets. In addition, Amazon has ushered in a new era of loyalty and a unique revenue model with its hugely popular Prime membership. It has been reported that 85% of Prime members browse for products at least once a week and 45% ultimately make a purchase. Amazon continues to push the innovation envelope in conversational commerce with its smash-hit Alexa platform, which has bested even Amazon’s aggressive and optimistic acceptance goals. Fast Company Ranking: 5.

Patagonia. Fast Company named the outdoor apparel brand to its coveted annual list thanks to its continued commitment to environmental issues including lending its name to the ongoing protests against the dismantling of national monuments and protected public lands. This month, the apparel manufacturer and retailer launched its Patagonia Action Works, a new digital platform designed to connect people and environmental nonprofits, helping them get involved through events, petitions, and volunteering. Fast Company Ranking: 6.

CVS Health. The nation’s second-largest retail pharmacy earned its spot on the list thanks to its ongoing commitment to increasing shopper health through a host of next-gen initiatives. The retailer was lauded by Fast Company for its partnership with IBM. The partnership allows CVS to leverage Watson AI technology to predict which customers need interventions to avoid health crises. In addition, over the past year CVS has launched next-day prescription delivery, continued to invest in its analytics prowess, and announced a high-profile merger with health insurance provider Aetna. Fast Company Ranking: 7.

Walmart. Walmart has been on an acquisition spree over the past few years., Bonobos, Moosejaw, Modcloth, Parcel ― Walmart’s list of assets continues to grow as it fortifies its digital prowess to compete with online rival Amazon. But the world’s largest retailer is not just making a splash in the acquisition market, it is developing its own homegrown capabilities as it looks to even the digital playing field. Whether the massive retailer is investing in returns, piloting a grocery ATM, exploring virtual commerce, or streamlining reordering ― Walmart continues to lead from the front. Fast Company Ranking: 15.

Gucci. The long-standing designer brand has reinvented itself. While always a standout in the world of high fashion, the manufacturer of retailer of high-end apparel and accessories was failing to connect with the pivotal millennial segment. To address this shortcoming and position itself as a “hip” brand, Gucci brought in Marco Bizzarri as CEO in 2015 who revamped the brand’s creative department and its marketing efforts. Thanks in part to a very successful social media campaign that leverages trending artists and influencers, millennial sales now make up half of Gucci’s revenue. Fast Company Ranking: 30.

Sephora. Sephora’s youthful market position coupled with its unique in-store experience has helped propel it to the top of the cosmetics market. The retailer has an extremely popular loyalty program and a profitable subscription box program that provides a steady revenue stream. Last year the brand began opening smaller footprint stores in local neighborhoods to complement its large format mall-based experience. In addition, the brand is investing heavily in the digital experience with magic mirrors and consumer mobile applications that allow shoppers to virtually try-on countless shades of makeup adding a level of new-age cool to the brand. Fast Company Ranking: 36.

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