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Retail Trends

Top 100 Retailers

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Click on chart to see a list of the Top 100 Retailers.

T he retail industry is a many-splintered thing, with the variations clearly showcased in the annual STORES Top 100 Retailers report.

Big-box retailers, from No. 1 Walmart to No. 27 Meijer, are shrinking store sizes, even as other operators — notably No. 28 Dollar General and No. 48 Menard — are opening larger units.

Drug store chains Walgreen (4) and CVS Caremark (7) continue to expand their food offerings, while supermarket operators from No. 2 Kroger to Whole Foods Market (37) are emphasizing health and nutrition. No. 3 Target wants nothing to do with Kindle but is expanding its Apple offerings, while No. 60 Dollar Tree is adding prescription counters in some locations.

Several Top 100 performers are without peers on the chart: 
• (15), the e-commerce pioneer and dominant online merchant 
• Toys “R” Us (46), popularizer and last survivor of toy superstore retailing 
• Army Air Force Exchange Service (47), operating in more retail segments than any other Top 100 company 
• GameStop (59), where console-based video games are the stock-in-trade
• QVC (70), with its multi-channel home shopping model
• Tractor Supply Co. (81) and its chain of ranch and farm stores
• Michaels (90), the hobby and crafts specialist.

Retailing strategies are as diverse as the business models: Urban planning vs. sites outside of town; shopping centers vs. thinking outside the mall altogether; bricks-and-mortar vs. greater investment in e- and m-commerce; staying focused on the domestic market vs. looking for opportunities abroad.

Amazon’s unique business model is at once audacious and inimitable — audacious because margins and profits are not immediate priorities to senior management nor, apparently, shareholders; inimitable because the opportunity to define and dominate an entire retail channel doesn’t often present itself.

Amazon is empire-building online in much the same way Walmart established itself as the world’s largest physical retailer. Walmart grew through logistics expertise and an everyday low-price (EDLP) policy.

The unarticulated EDLP strategy Amazon follows keeps consumers mindful that items are probably cheaper online. To be sure, Amazon has some advantages over bricks-and-mortar – most notably, the lack of overhead associated with building, stocking, staffing and maintaining stores. But Amazon also sells Kindle Fire at or near cost, eats shipping costs and, by some estimates, loses money on every loyal Prime customer, just to keep people shopping at

Last holiday shopping season, Amazon raised the profile of “showrooming,” encouraging consumers to use its Price Check smartphone app to inspect items on their gift lists in stores, then purchase them at lower cost online — with a 5 percent bonus discount as an incentive.

Jeffrey Bezos,’s founder, is running the show with a long-term focus he articulated in his shareholder letter after the company’s first public stock offering 15 years ago. His emphasis, then and now, is on market share. “We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term,” Bezos wrote. “This value will be a direct result of our ability to extend and solidify our current market leadership position.”

Kantar Retail forecasts will reach $81 billion in retail sales in five years. “Amazon redefined broad assortment at low price, much like Walmart once did,” says Anne Zybowski, vice president, Retail Insights.

Comparing the two largest retailers in their respective channels, Zybowski expects Walmart and to add about $60 billion in sales over the next five years. Walmart is growing at mid-single digits, while Amazon is experiencing strong double-digit growth.

Zybowski doesn’t see retailing as a channel vs. channel proposition: Rather, she sees successful retailers as those who offer the best integrated brand propositions. “Bricks-and-mortar retailers should realize it’s a shopper trend, not an Amazon trend,” she says.

Other one-of-a-kind retailers on the Top 100 chart are dominant, but most do not enjoy Amazon’s competitive advantages. Toys “R” Us was the first to open big-box stores with a narrowly edited deep merchandise assortment: Competition came not from other toy sellers, but rather general merchandise retailers like Walmart and Costco. After running into operating difficulties a decade ago, Toys “R” Us is controlled by venture capitalists who have expressed interest in taking the company public again.

Right behind Toys “R” Us on the list is AAFES, which operates base and post exchanges for the U.S. Army and Air Force. The operations include almost every type of retail format, from general merchandise stores to fuel stations and e-commerce in more than 3,100 locations in all 50 states, five U.S. territories and 30 countries around the world, including war zones.

GameStop built itself into a global giant in part by buying and re-selling used video games and hardware built around PlayStation, Wii and Xbox, and began to deal with PC- and Mac-based games within the last year. The question is, will GameStop go the way of music stores and movie rental dealers, where physical products were displaced by digital downloads? Or will it hang on to a bricks-and-mortar presence while adopting technology that allows it to compete with digital rivals?

At the end of 2011 came news that video game and accessory sales were approximately one-quarter below prior-year holiday-selling levels, according to data tracker NPD Group. The economy may have had something to do with it, but so did the fact that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft game consoles haven’t seen improved versions in at least five years.

GameStop is planning for tomorrow, says CEO J. Paul Raines. “Are we paralyzed in fear that our business model isn’t working? Not at all,” Raines says. The retailer has moved into downloadable games and has expanded its used hardware market to include iPods and iPhones, an area where Raines expects growth. “We’re on a mission and you can’t accuse us of not driving a heck of a lot of change,” he says.

Raines’ enthusiasm notwithstanding, GameStop reported total sales and comparable store sales declined by about 12 percent in the first three months of the current fiscal year. The earnings drop (about 10 percent) was less severe. One bright spot: Digital receipts rose 23 percent over last year’s first quarter figure.

QVC reaches about 100 million U.S. households and has moved vigorously into e-commerce; 36 percent of its U.S. sales were online last year. While some of the goods are recycled from TV broadcasts, at times as much as half the goods purchased online had not been previously shown on air.

Home products, accessories (including beauty) and electronics were strong sellers for QVC in 2011, helping raise revenue by 4 percent. QVC’s parent, Liberty Interactive, also owns a large stake in rival home shopping retailer HSN, whose $3.2 billion sales last year just missed making the cut for the Top 100 Retailers.

Tractor Supply Co., which began as a Depression-era mail order tractor parts business, has more than 1,100 stores in 44 states. As part of its corporate plan to expand its store base by 8 percent annually, the company opened 33 stores in the first quarter of this year, up from 26 stores opened in last year’s first quarter.

Thanks to the mild winter, revenues in the first quarter rose 22 percent over the prior year’s comparable period, giving the company its first-ever billion-dollar sales quarter at the start of a fiscal year. The steep markdowns the retailer took on winter merchandise did erode gross margin, however.

No. 77 Dell differs from other computer makers in that it sells direct to consumers, primarily its own brand of computers, peripherals, accessories and software. Dell did report to shareholders that consumer business declined 4 percent last year; its mobility business, however, increased revenues — largely on more unit sales — even though competition forced the company to lower merchandise prices.

Foot Locker (86) operates athletic retail stores in 23 countries, but at its core remains a shoe store: Associated garments and accessories account for only about 24 percent of total sales, and much of that is sold via its Champs Sports locations or its CCS operation, catering to skateboard enthusiasts.

Among its mostly mall-based Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker and Kids Foot Locker units, the company closed 57 more stores than it opened last year. The store closing continued this year, with Foot Locker shuttering 34 more locations in the first quarter — although it also opened 25 new locations and remodeled or relocated 53 others. The company’s financial performance in the first three months of 2012 was “outstanding,” says chairman and CEO Ken C. Hicks, as sales rose 8.7 percent and same-store sales advanced 9.7 percent.

Michaels is controlled by Blackstone Group and Bain Capital, and earlier this year filed notice of its intentions to return to public ownership, though no date for the initial public offering (IPO) was announced. Blackstone and Bain, along with Highfields Capital Partners, took over the company in 2006; since then, the retailer has added more than 160 stores to give it close to 1,100 locations in the United States and Canada. Michaels has also increased both sales and earnings in the process.