Top 100 Retailers
Amazon becomes first pure-play e-retailer to crash the top 10
The current retailing revolution isn’t about overthrowing the old elite; it’s about the speed with which the old dogs are learning new tricks. One such example: Amazon.com has joined the uppermost ranks of STORES magazine’s Top 100 Retailers. Last year Amazon was beaten — percentagewise — in e-commerce sales growth by Wal-Mart. Amazon’s total online volume dwarfed Wal-Mart’s, but Wal-Mart’s 30 percent increase in web sales outpaced Amazon’s 20 percent.
“That’s just the law of big numbers,” says Bryan Gildenberg, chief knowledge officer for Kantar Retail, which compiles the annual list of the nation’s top retailers for STORES. “The combined e-commerce sales of the top 25 bricks-and-mortar retailers probably don’t equal Amazon’s. I don’t think you can say bricks-and-mortar ‘dominates’ e-commerce.”
Amazon aside, the largest e-commerce merchants remain those that started in bricks-and-mortar. The online success of traditional retailers contributes to the stability of the Top 100; only two companies on this year’s list were not in the 2013 Top 100.
Amazon added nearly $10 billion in Internet retail sales last year — no small feat, as the increase effectively matched Wal-Mart’s total web sales. Wal-Mart’s growth in e-commerce is no minor achievement: Wal-Mart is rated the No. 4 performer in online retailing, behind Amazon, Apple and Staples, according to Internet Retailer.
E-commerce received a big boost this past winter, when the “polar vortex” kept so many people indoors. The same weather phenomenon delivered a blow not only to store-based retailers but the nation’s economy as a whole. In the first three months of 2014, the country’s gross domestic product actually shrank, the first such decline in three years, according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures, and “There is little in the GDP report to suggest anything other than a reiteration of the economy’s 2 to 2.5 percent real-growth rut,” says Steve Blitz of ITG Investment Research. “The weak first-quarter growth number sets up for a strong second-quarter growth rate, but neither this nor the first-quarter decline reflect the middling path along which this economy travels.”
The relative success of traditional retailers in the online arena comes because they are “large-scale profitable businesses well-grounded in the mechanics of retailing,” says Gildenberg. He points out that “89 percent of e-commerce is ‘commerce.’ That’s what bricks-and-mortar is good at.”
What makes a retailer?
The processes of retailing are changing so rapidly and radically that they call into question the very definition of “retailer.”
Is every manufacturer who sells directly to consumers via its website a retailer? This works well enough for Dell to land the computer-maker a spot on the Top 100 list. Several consumer product brands sell via eBay’s Plaza or Alibaba’s Tmall and similar platforms. Does that make them retailers?
What about direct sellers like Tupperware and Avon? They compete with stores selling housewares and health and beauty items. Does selling all those cookies make the Girls Scouts of the U.S.A. a retailer? Is selling tickets for sporting events or airline flights retailing?
That doesn’t begin to include digital content. Apple’s iTunes was easy enough to equate to the selling of albums or CDs: Now there are movies and TV shows available through not just iTunes but Amazon and Netflix. And where does Redbox fit in?
Are HBO, Showtime, Starz and cable TV companies retailers because they sell movies on demand? Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, has products and services that compete directly with Netflix. Does that make Comcast a retailer?
The whole notion of subscription services for digital content is being challenged by a different model called “hard bundling,” in which content comes free to consumers with the price embedded in the cost of hardware. In the case of recent start-up Yonder, it’s free music with the purchase of a smartphone.
“If you are looking at the future of retailing, it’ll be digital content through commercial platforms,” says Gildenberg.
E-commerce embodies more than retailing. Kantar Retail has identified a number of online operators as “influencers,” businesses that have a direct impact on retailing, whether they are marketplaces like eBay and Etsy or such social media as Pinterest, Foursquare, Fancy, Twitter and Facebook. Gildenberg sees “four pillars” of digital commerce emerging that will dominate, if not control, retailing: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
“The retailer as a standalone business will soon be an antiquated notion,” he says, seeing the “pillar” companies and other giants like Comcast and Verizon acquiring more retailers as they grow and diversify. Gildenberg can also see a large mass merchant buying a digital business like Yahoo. As a result, retail will wind up being part of a “more complex ecosystem,” he says.
Ascribing sales to a particular channel may be as useful to retailers as tracking sales in branch locations, but consumers shop wherever a retailer has a presence: It could be buying in one store and exchanging in another halfway across the country, ordering via mobile device and picking up at a nearby store or any number of permutations.
As it is, some 85 percent of leading e-commerce retailers with bricks-and-mortar stores use those physical units as pick-up locations for consumers who order goods online.
The e-commerce platform that retailers use — personal computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones — is not as important for selling goods as it is for marketing, Gildenberg says. “Mobile experiences are different from viewing something on a bigger screen. It’s what you’re capable of doing on mobile versus browsing on PCs or laptops. You are not really going to browse on your smartphone.”
Ultimately, consumers are buying a retailer’s merchandise: Whether it’s via Macy’s Herald Square store, Macys.com or the brand’s mobile app, the consumer purchases because of Macy’s buying and merchandising capabilities. In many ways, e-commerce is the tail wagging the retail dog: Online is where the excitement, activity and innovation are, but the vast majority of most retail sales are still transacted in stores.
With Amazon teaching the world that all kinds of merchandise can be sold online, why haven’t other e-commerce businesses replicated its success? Gildenberg says most start-ups “don’t have the experience of managing consistently to a [profit-and-loss statement] and the operational complexities can break” their business model.
Low margins can cripple start-ups, but “Amazon has learned to live with that by running other businesses profitably that underwrite its retail business,” he says. “Amazon has billions of dollars in capital, both financial and human, invested in its business and developed an e-commerce model that has operational capability, ease of use and search engine optimization unequaled by anyone else.”
Grocery’s driving force
The growth of e-commerce has fairly well bypassed groceries, in large part because the supermarket sector in this country has traditionally been so decentralized. With the exception of Walmart, no grocery chain is truly a national presence, though Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Aldi seem to be pointed in that direction.
As a merchandise segment, however, grocery remains a driving force. Eight of the nation’s 10 largest retailers drive a significant portion of store traffic with groceries. In all, 37 of the Top 100 retailers include groceries in their merchandise mixes; more than 20 can be classified as supermarkets.
Grocery is attractive enough that Amazon is tinkering with ways to make a significant push into the sector. This past spring, Amazon launched Prime Pantry, which allows members to order enough merchandise to fill a box up to 45 pounds in total weight. The box is then shipped for $5.99 plus the cost of the goods, with delivery promised within five days.
For the time being, Prime Pantry does not include fresh food and perishables, which are restricted to the Amazon Fresh program that comes with a $299 annual fee, Prime membership and free delivery on orders in excess of $35. A major feature of Prime Pantry is that it allows Amazon to offer all sorts of goods that would be too costly to ship on their own.
Another initiative in the test stage is Amazon Dash, a scanning wand consumers can use on barcodes to replenish household consumables. Amazon Dash was unveiled early this year for Amazon Fresh customers in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. As for Amazon Fresh, the company reportedly has plans to expand the program to as many as 20 additional metropolitan areas by the end of the year.
Growing into e-commerce
Wal-Mart recently announced plans to double the size of the workforce at its Global eCommerce division in Sunnyvale, Calif., which also includes video-on-demand and mobile shopping. The retailer opened three fulfillment centers last year, moving closer to its goal of delivering merchandise anywhere in the country within two days of being ordered online.
Even Wal-Mart’s recently revealed growth plans for small-footprint stores is part of the company’s e-commerce strategy. Wal-Mart says it will open 270 to 300 Neighborhood Market and Walmart Express stores this year, double the number announced last year.
“Our small-store expansion, in addition to providing customers access to a wide variety of products … will help us usher in the next generation of retail,” says Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S.A.
The company is “trying to bridge physical and digital and help our customers get what they want, when they want it and how they want it,” Brian Monahan, vice president of marketing for Walmart.com, said at a recent e-commerce trade conference.
“Americans, on average, are spending more time with media each day than they do sleeping. That comes with 1,200 marketing messages a day, so consumers … [are] trying to decide what they want, what’s the right value for a bargain,” he said.
For much of its e-commerce volume, Walmart relies on the order-online, pickup-at-store model, but it is also working on developing an efficient and effective delivery approach. (Amazon is also working on home delivery challenges — the so-called “last mile” — after last holiday season’s hiccups that caused many gift packages to be delivered late.)
A potential key differentiator for Walmart’s in-store pickup for e-commerce orders is the pay-with-cash option, whereby customers do not need a credit or debit card to complete the transaction.
Though still relatively small as a percentage of overall revenues, e-commerce sales are still inflicting damage on bricks-and-mortar operators, whether they be national department store chains or suburban shopping malls.
Stores are already becoming centers of community activity, as illustrated by the increasing number of Staples locations offering U.S. Postal Service services. In addition, some smaller communities are considering “farming out” to retailers such municipal services as obtaining permits and licenses and paying fees.
“More and more, stores will be communal gathering places, with property developers being the ones to facilitate these multi-use spaces,” Gildenberg says. “In fact, it might be the space’s brand, not the store management, that’s in charge.
“Retail will collapse into one space,” he predicts, and “the person intelligent enough to curate space to attract like-minded people in large numbers will be the one in charge.”
Inventory that is out of whack with sales can only spell trouble, and this is just what has been happening to apparel retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, Aéropostale and Urban Outfitters, suggests David Berman of retail hedge fund Durban Capital. Berman looked at sales and inventory levels at more than 200 publicly held apparel retailers and found that among chains appealing to teens and young adults, inventory grew faster than sales during every quarter of 2013; the trend continued into the early months of this year for many of those companies.
Among the exceptions are such fast-fashion operators as H&M and Forever 21. H&M opened its first U.S. store in New York in 2000, hit the West Coast five years later and now has roughly 300 stateside stores — its second-largest market after Germany.
In this country, the chain faces price competition from Gap, Forever 21 and off-price operators like Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less. In response, parent Hennes & Mauritz introduced the COS brand, which debuted on e-commerce sites late last year. COS apparel is more upscale than what is found in H&M units, putting it in the same league as Zara.
There are now about 100 COS stores worldwide, but the only locations in this country have been pop-up stores. A major U.S. rollout has been talked about for more than a year, though the company has been mum on when that launch may take place.
The department store-as-dinosaur analogy has been around almost as long as dinosaurs have been extinct, but there still seems to be life in this oldest of retail formats.
Macy’s is Exhibit A for both sides of the argument, closing stores and furloughing employees while continuing to expand sales and operate profitably. Macy’s has grown sales by $4.4 billion over the past four years and attributes much of that performance to its “core business strategies,” referred to as M.O.M. for My Macy’s localization, omnichannel integration and “Magic Selling.” This last is a four-year-old initiative to train sales associates in recognizing and understanding customers’ diverse lifestyles and priorities.
“Our competitive advantage is in the unique combination of localization, omnichannel and enhanced customer engagement,” says Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s chairman and chief executive. “Customers are able to shop for and buy the products they want and prefer in our stores, via mobile devices and on computers in a shopping environment that delivers outstanding value and is supported with great service … We have been developing M.O.M. for years and it is an enduring formula that we believe continues to hold significant promise for the future.”
Walgreen has gone international in a big way and become something of a Wall Street darling in the process. Now CVS, whose retail pharmacies in this country have been outperforming Walgreen’s, is stepping up its own international efforts.
CVS already has a position in Brazil with a majority stake in the 44-unit Drogaria Onofre, which it purchased early last year. More recently, CVS made a failed offer for Drogarias Pacheco São Paolo, but reports say there may be more conversations in the works. If CVS does acquire DPSP, it would become the second-largest pharmacy retailer in the country behind Raia Drogasil.
In the United States, CVS has created the world’s largest consumer loyalty program — 70 million customers strong — and mined that data for further benefit. Judy Sansone, CVS senior vice president of merchandising, says 30 percent of the chain’s marketing budget is spent on targeting efforts to loyalty cardholders.
Last year Rite Aid opened its first new store since 2011 and stepped up the pace of remodeling older units tenfold. After reporting its first profit in six years in FY2013, Rite Aid more than doubled earnings (to $249.4 million) for the fiscal year ended March 1, 2014.
Doug McMillon, former head of Walmart International, took over as head of Wal-Mart Stores in February. “Technology, data and information are opening new doors for us to lead through. Our purpose of saving people money will always be relevant, but we’ll do it in new ways,” he told shareholders at last month’s annual meeting.
New leadership is also in place at Target, now under the direction of former CFO John Mulligan, who was named interim chief executive after CEO Gregg Steinhafel resigned in the wake of last year’s massive data breach. Among Mulligan’s challenges are restoring shopper confidence in Target and overseeing the chain’s small-store urban initiative.
Amazon.com’s Prime has adopted Costco’s fee-based membership model and a number of other retailers have borrowed its “treasure hunt” approach to in-store merchandising. Now Costco finds itself imitating other retailers to “get younger people into the warehouses,” says CFO Richard Galanti. “We’re not going to do anything rash, but we’re also not going to have our head in the sand here.”
The company is introducing more organic produce and other products in its grocery offerings since buyers of organic goods “tend to be a little younger” than the typical Costco shopper, Galanti says. But as some analysts have noted, Millennials are congregating in urban locales, while Costco’s bulk-purchase goods are aimed at car-driving suburban shoppers with plenty of storage space.
Popular chain restaurants are getting beat up for all sorts of alleged sins against society, from addicting kids to sugar to exploiting workers. In this environment, it seems amazing that the 13 companies that comprise the restaurant power players were able to do as well as they did last year.
Obstinate investors can also make things difficult, as Darden Restaurants discovered. Starboard Value, a New York hedge fund that owns a 6.2 percent share of Darden, threatened to run its own slate of candidates for the restaurateur’s board of directors after management agreed to a $2 billion deal to sell the company’s Red Lobster chain. Starboard would have rather seen Darden do a three-way spinoff involving Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse.
One company that has managed to avoid major squabbles and keep rolling along is Dunkin’ Donuts. Parent Dunkin’ Brands says the doughnuts-and-coffee purveyor will open approximately 400 new locations this year. Dunkin’ is returning to California after shutting down there more than a decade ago when current CEO Nigel Travis took over the reins. The company has signed contracts for nearly 100 restaurants in Southern California, with plans to grow northward.
Dollar stores are small compared with traditional supermarkets and supersized discounters, so repeat business is the way to drive traffic. The retailers have added more consumables, including low-margin but frequently purchased groceries. “At these stores, their grocery products have been growing a little bit faster than their non-grocery products,” says David McGoldrick, an analyst with Euromonitor International.
Dollar General and Dollar Tree have seen same-store sales growth slow from their peaks a couple of years ago, but they continue to outpace broader retail industry performance. Family Dollar Stores has been the exception, posting a 2.8 percent comp decline in the final quarter of last year and a drop of 3.8 percent in same-store sales in the second quarter of this year. In spite (or perhaps because) of that, Family Dollar has attracted the attention of activist investor Carl Icahn, who recently disclosed that he is now the retailer’s largest shareholder with 9.4 percent of common stock.
CEO Howard Levine owns 8.2 percent of the company, which this year plans to close some 400 stores even as it continues with plans to open 525 new locations. Family Dollar’s board recently adopted a one-year “poison pill” shareholder rights plan anticipating any takeover attempts that is intended to provide “adequate time to consider any and all alternatives.”
Many sporting goods and outdoor recreation retailers were able to squeeze out single-digit same-store sales increases last year, but they’re looking for some game-changing numbers to improve this year’s performance. Perhaps the widest-ranging negative trend is the declining numbers of youth participating in team sports.
“The degradation of the casual team sports participation cannot be ignored,” says VJ Mayor, director of communications and research for the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Nineteen of the 24 sports tracked showed declines; gymnastics, ultimate Frisbee, indoor soccer and beach volleyball lead among those showing increases.
A less-ominous trend indicates that the number of “inactive” Americans seems to have plateaued at around 28 percent of the population (80.4 million people), according to the Physical Activity Council. “Industry initiatives and national campaigns to increase physical activity may be starting to bear fruit, but we need to decrease inactivity, not stabilize it,” says Tom Coves, PAC chairman.
Pittsburgh-based Dick’s Sporting Goods suffered weakness in golf, fitness and outdoor equipment categories, which contributed to an overall decline in the company’s hardlines sales, now 49 percent of total sales. Apparel accounts for 30 percent and footwear another 20 percent as Dick’s has been growing the number of Nike and Under Armour in-store shops.
Grocers are taking it to the competition, whether it comes from drug stores loading their shelves with grocery products or Amazon.com’s Prime expanding grocery offerings. Most major supermarkets operate in-store pharmacies, but haven’t used them as a competitive marketing tool. That is beginning to change, however.
Leading the pack is Kroger, which is partnering in a study of medication management counseling. “Our pharmacists will make appointments to meet with patients and caregivers in person to reconcile medications, identify any issues, answer questions and provide suggestions for self-management,” says Sukanya Madlinger, a regional president for Kroger. The study is aimed at helping reduce the number of hospital return trips due to patient failure to follow medication regimens.
Food retailers are the laggards in online initiatives, although many are employing the order-online, pick-up-at-store model with which Publix has been particularly successful. Still, a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers finds that only about 1 percent of consumers use the Internet to purchase most of their groceries. There is evidence that this may be changing, however, as the evolving technology landscape, “increased urbanization and changing demographics create the perfect recipe for online grocery retail,” says Steven Barr, PwC retail and consumer practice leader.
Electronics and Entertainment
While Amazon may be a paragon of e-commerce, its stature as a retailer is somewhat less exalted -- as evidenced by its retail gross profit growth, which has declined over six straight quarters. Barnes & Noble is the last vestige of an industry where digital killed the print star. Expansion into music and video was no safe haven, as sales dropped 7 percent last year and profits have been battered.
Another recent candidate for extinction, Best Buy shows new life under the guidance of CEO Hubert Joly and a 20 percent jump in online sales last year. The company also turned a $532 million profit, reversing the previous year’s loss of $441 million.
One of the star performers in the category is QVC, which posted a 4.6 percent sales gain in the United States (to $5.8 billion) while generating a pre-tax profit of $824 million. Though QVC is the nation’s largest TV shopping network by number of viewers, almost half (43 percent) of its sales come via e-commerce.
Apple is a high-flyer in this group and has created a lot of buzz with its recent purchase of Beats electronics for $3 billion, the company’s largest-ever acquisition. Beats brings a well-established brand -- Beats by Dr. Dre enjoys a 64 percent share of the premium headphone market -- along with nascent subscription service Beats Music.
Health and Beauty
Specialty retailers selling prestige health and beauty merchandise are facing increased pressure from manufacturers that have been creating upmarket products for mass merchandisers.
Some observers trace the rise in competition offered by mass retailers to the decision Sephora made years ago to display products in an “open-sell” environment, rather than use glass display cases the way most department stores still do. After other specialty chains adopted the open-sell environment, Ulta moved to another level by featuring mass and prestige items in its stores. “There is a common expectation … that most products are available in lots of different places,” says David Rubin, marketing vice president for hair care at Unilever.
Coming off a year in which sales jumped 20.3 percent and online revenues soared nearly 77 percent, Ulta has maintained its upward movement in the current fiscal year. “The team’s accomplishments included improving retail transactions which turned positive, driving continued momentum in our online business, successfully rolling out new brands, completing a smooth conversion of our loyalty program members onto one platform and managing inventory very well,” explains Mary Dillon, Ulta’s chief executive.
So far this year, Ulta's same-store sales have been running in the high single digits. Overall, digital business improved 72.3 percent in the first quarter ended in May.
Hobby and Crafts
Hobby and crafts is the smallest of the power player groupings in terms of domestic sales, with a combined total of just over $9.3 billion. Category leader by sales volume is Michaels Stores, which had more than its share of adverse publicity this year.
Things were much better in the sales arena, where Michaels Stores posted a 3.7 percent increase for last year and followed up with a 5.9 percent year-over-year increase in the first quarter of the current fiscal year. House labels and private brands drove 48 percent of net sales in fiscal 2013, the company says; the fourth quarter accounts for 34 percent of sales and 46 percent of operating income.
Hobby Lobby’s profile was raised by its challenge to some Affordable Care Act provisions, but the publicity didn’t appear to impact performance one way or the other. Year-over-year volume rose about 1 percent, even with the net addition of 35 stores last year. The company plans to open another 70 units this year, including its first in Oregon and Vermont.
A strong price-to-value proposition is particularly important to today’s home goods shoppers, according to market research firm dunnhumbyUSA. Its Customer Centricity Index ranks IKEA, Bed Bath & Beyond and Williams-Sonoma as the top retailers in seven “key areas that are most important to long-term customer satisfaction.”“Our research shows a clear correlation between high levels of customer centricity and long-term company performance,” says Euan White, dunnhumby USA senior vice president of consumer markets. “Retailers who put the customer at the center of everything are reaping the rewards in sales growth.”Bed Bath & Beyond" has been playing the value proposition to the hilt, increasing sales at a compound rate of 10 percent over the last 10 years. Contributing to its performance are new merchandise categories like home environment, where the retailer has introduced seasonal items like humidifiers. Also contributing to growth is the Cost Plus World Market housewares and home décor chain it acquired two years ago, which has grown to 265 stores.The fast-growing HomeGoods chain, part of the TJX empire, added 35 stores last year while increasing selling space 8 percent. HomeGoods, which enjoyed a 7 percent same-store sales gain in fiscal 2014, plans to add another 35 stores this year.
Lowe’s and The Home Depot do a lot of business with contractors and other professionals, something many DIYers rely on when looking for expert advice. But plenty of other consumers prefer to do business with smaller dealers, as evidenced by the No. 1 rank for Ace Hardware in the J.D. Power Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction Study released last month. Consumers rated Ace their favorite primarily because of staff availability, knowledge and courtesy.
Ace has been performing at record levels of late, both in terms of sales and earnings. Among the 3,100 independent Ace dealers that report daily POS activity, store traffic and transaction size are rising and same-store sales increased 5.2 percent in the first quarter of this year. CEO John Venhuizen attributed the gains to increases in the heating and lawn and garden categories as a result of the severe winter earlier this year.
Menard was cited by dunnhumbyUSA as the most customer-centric retailer in the DIY category. “Menard’s success with customers lies with its strong pricing strategy, as well as promotions that customers saw as meeting their needs,” says Emilie Kroner, dunnhumbyUSA’s head of consumer markets organization engagement. Menard has also been using a “Made in America” theme in promoting its merchandise.
Talk about consolidation: The office supply superstore sector is shrinking from three to two power players with the merger of Office Depot and OfficeMax. Current integration plans call for the closure of at least 400 stores, primarily to reduce redundancies; some 150 of the shutterings are slated for this year. “The overlapping retail footprint resulting from the merger provides us with a unique opportunity to consolidate and optimize our store portfolio,” says Roland Smith, Office Depot’s chief executive. Store closings should be completed by the end of 2016 and result in savings of $75 million annually, Smith says.
Staples will be closing some 225 stores by the end of next year, even as it introduces new merchandise categories. Among the 1,600 products are cleaning supplies; travel-size health, beauty and personal care products; safety items like fire extinguishers and traffic cones; educational toys; and supplies for medical offices (including scrubs). “Our customers are using less office supplies, shopping less often in our stores and more online, and the focus on value has made the market more competitive,” Ronald L. Sargent, Staples’ chairman and CEO, said in explaining the store closings and shift in emphasis to e-commerce.
Who, what, why and how
The Top 100 Retailers are ranked by 52/53-week annual retail sales. In almost all instances, sales used to rank companies are for retail activity in the United States only; footnotes are provided when this is not the case. To arrive at U.S. retail sales figures, a variety of estimation techniques are applied based on publicly disclosed information. For this reason, the figures presented do not always match the companies’ official public filing reports.
Company revenues from non-retailing operating segments are removed unless otherwise noted; system-wide sales are provided when the operation is a franchise.
In keeping with the methodology used in previous years, the rankings eliminate fuel sales at locations designated as having a gasoline/fueling station as its primary business.
What constitutes a segment Power Player? Any retailer with 2013 U.S. sales equal to or greater than 10 percent of the sales of the category leader.
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