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Retail Trends

The Favorite 50

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Click on chart to see a list of the Favorite 50.

E-commerce powerhouses, and remain ensconced as the top e-retailers in the STORES Favorite 50, but specialty retailers are gaining notice by responding to the demands of their (mostly) younger customers.

STORES’ fifth annual ranking of the industry’s top online retailers reflects the views of retailers’ toughest and most important judges — consumers.

In June, BIGresearch collected responses from 8,379 consumers about their most-preferred online merchants. “Rather than representing ‘market share,’” says BIGresearch consumer insights director Pamela Goodfellow, “this study outlines consumer ‘preference share.’”

Despite signs of modest economic recovery, many shoppers are keeping a tight hold on discretionary dollars. As a result, value remains a top priority — and nobody is more demanding of value than the omni-channel shopper. No retail channel is out of bounds for her: She engages websites, stores and call centers to create a shopping plan and execute a purchase. She has learned how to leverage every channel to research, locate and procure merchandise, whether via home delivery or at the store itself.

As cunning as this shopper is in her research, she also expects her retailers of choice to deliver a high level of value. Both in-store and online, shoppers want accurate in-stock levels, easy navigation and access to knowledgeable sales associates. But online, the stakes are even higher.

Price will always be a main component of the value game. In fact, 71.2 percent of shoppers reported low prices were very important in their online shopping decisions. With price top of mind, it is not surprising that free shipping was the second-most valuable service for nearly 60 percent of survey participants. And if shoppers cannot easily find their merchandise of choice, competitors are only a click away.

Power to the People
A and are clearly upping the ante when it comes to value: They expertly use these methods to retain loyal shoppers and to lure new consumers. Besides delivering competitively priced merchandise and easy site navigation, both companies have shipping options that many competitors are trying to duplicate.

Wal-Mart may be the top dog in bricks-and-mortar sales, but continues to rule the roost atop the Favorite 50. In fact, its consumer preference share (37 percent) represents a one-year increase of more than 52 percent. Why? Most likely, it’s because consumers are attracted to Amazon’s broad selection of products and brands.

“In one transaction, a customer can buy a high-end handbag, quality jeans, coffee beans, cereal, batteries and toothpaste … and that’s just too convenient for a lot of busy, multi-tasking consumers to pass up,” Goodfellow says. “Amazon is also the home of the Kindle, one of the hot electronics products. All of the Kindle e-books the retailer offers only keep readers returning to the site.”

Overall, the top five e-retail heavyweights —,,, and — retained their respective positions from 2010.

“They’ve been around for a while, each has a loyal customer base and are each known, in their own way, for value-oriented pricing,” Goodfellow says.

Trickle-Down Value
This year’s list reveals that value-centric shopping has trickled down to the teen and tween segment, helping specialty retailers and make significant jumps. passed competitors (No. 24) and (No. 27) in rising from No. 37 last year to No. 23; also improved 14 spots, rising from No. 47 to No. 33.

A soft economy has been particularly hard on apparel retailers, so and had to find new ways to rise above the clutter. is building loyalty by promoting new categories, including plus sizes, while Aeropostale was “more promotional than anticipated on our spring assortment and clearance merchandise,” CEO Thomas Johnson said in a company statement. Johnson doesn’t plan to rely solely on discounts; Aeropostale will continue to improve its merchandise assortment to help retain its position among loyal shoppers.

“Both retailers cater to the ‘fast fashion’ crowd with prices that fit into parents’ budgets, which is still important in this economy,” Goodfellow says.

Innovative strategies helped some e-retailers return to the Favorite 50 this year, including No. 39 and No. 47, and others (No. 48, No. 50 make their debuts.

The most impressive new entry is No. 30 Already known for its innovative multi-channel strategy, the department store retailer raised the customer service bar even higher by adding online inventory at store-level, and it allows shoppers to order an item online and pick it up in-store. According to Nordstrom Direct president Jamie Nordstrom, these efforts contributed to strong same-store sales increases in the first part of 2011.