Some are familiar; others not so. Fast Company’s annual list of “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Retail” covers a lot of ground in its diversity. Here’s a recap:
1. Nike: Cited for its revolutionary new products and culture of “true believers.”
2. Burberry: The company’s cutting-edge, digitally enhanced remodeled London flagship is praised “for sending brick-and-mortar stores into the next century.” The merchandise is embedded with RFID chips, which can be read by screens and mirrors. When a customer walks into fitting room with a dress, for example, one of the mirrors might respond by turning into a screen showing images of how it was worn on the catwalk, or details to the garment’s construction.
3. 7-Eleven: That’s right … 7-Eleven. It was selected for “localizing” its stores via a deal with Amazon that allows customers to have small packages delivered to their local 7-Eleven rather than their home. Currently, the arrangement is being offered in five areas: New York, Seattle, Washington, D.C., the Silicon Valley and London.
4. Sephora: Fast Company was impressed by the retailer’s Sephora + Pantone Color IQ system, designed to make selecting a foundation easier. It uses a handheld device, whose technology is based on that used in graphic design, which holds some 1,000 SKUs to determine an exact match to the customer’s skin.
5. Everlane: With nearly half a million users, the online clothing company aims to provide members with low-cost, high-quality goods by cutting out middlemen. All of its pieces are created in-house by a team of designers and manufactured in factories around the world. It has no physical stores or retail partners. According to Fast Company, it keeps demand high by using a limited batch model.
6. Black Milk Clothing: The Australian online retailer (best known for its fashionable leggings, which come in all colors and in a dizzying array of prints) lets customers contribute to the site’s product photography. Users simply tag the photo on Twitter or Instagram and it’s automatically added to the site. All pieces are made in Australia.
7. Svpply: The social shopping site, which was acquired by eBay in 2012, aims to recreate the feeling of window-shopping online with a social, curated and personalized experience. But the hook is that it also predicts what merchandise a user will like based on their social media. Fast Company says merchants are eager to sign up. More than 3,000 items are pulled daily from some 75,000 stores.
8. Crate & Barrel: Fast Company is enamored of the retailer’s 3D Room Designer, which gives customers the ability to ‘try on’ a piece of furniture in their rooms before buying it. Users simply upload a photo of the room they would like to furnish to Crate and Barrel’s online platform and provide their room’s dimensions. The photo is the wiped clean of its furniture, enabling shoppers to substitute pieces from the retailer’s online catalog and visualize them as they would appear in the room. Shoppers can then email the modified photo of their room to the nearest Crate and Barrel and schedule a personal design appointment with an associate.
9. MakerBot: I admit: I’ve never heard of this one. It’s an online company whose 3D printers allow both professional and amateur craftsmen to create and share new products.
10. Uniqlo: Fast Company picked the Japanese clothing giant “for making fast fashion actually fashionable” (a distinction that some other fast-fashion retailers might disagree with), citing its collaborations with such designers as Jil Sander and Rei Kawakubo.
If you’re curious as why Target and Amazon didn’t make the list, the answer if simple: their accomplishments are such that Fast Company doesn’t limit them to its retail list. Instead, along with Nike, they rank in the Top 10 of the magazine’s "World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies." (Check them out here.)