Retail leaders have been navigating pandemic-related hurdles for almost two years, creating solutions for store closures, curbside pickup, supply chain hiccups, a blockage in the Suez Canal, a stay-at-home workforce, and—likely, somewhere in this timeline—the threat of murder hornets. To say we’re living in a weird era is an understatement, and everyone deserves a high-five for innovating through harrowing circumstances. As we reflect on 2021, we want to recognize 12 retail and technology leaders for the impact their companies made this year, and how they’re shaping the future of retail and technology.
Heidi O’Neill has 50 billion reasons to celebrate: She has shepherded Nike to another year of multi-billion dollar revenue growth, and has helped the company more than double revenue over the last decade. Nike, which is projected to hit $50 billion in annual revenue in 2022, is a leading global brand in apparel and footwear by a wide margin, followed by Adidas, Zara, and H&M, according to Retail Dive. And the company isn’t afraid of change. Over the last 5 years, it has pulled back from wholesale relationships in favor of direct-to-consumer sales and owning its omnichannel experience—a strategy that’s clearly working.
Would small businesses survive today without Shopify? Fast Company named the platform, which provides small businesses with everything they need to operate online, one of the most innovative companies in the world in 2021. Shopify has been instrumental in directing customers to small businesses through its Shop app. The payoff for small business is undeniable. Shopify saw a 99% YOY increase in the fourth quarter last year, to more than $41 billion in gross merchandise value and an 86% increase in revenue.
Carol Tomé was lured out of retirement by the prospect of streamlining processes at the 114-year-old UPS. By simplifying the decision-making process and investing in ground speed delivery, Tomé helped the company grow its market-share. Another major change the shoppers might notice? Tomé changed the company’s overly-restrictive policies around hairstyles, facial hair, and tattoos, inviting employees to bring their “authentic” selves to work and increasing employee satisfaction in the process.
Sally Gilligan is rethinking Gap’s inventory and experience with data, transitioning the company to a demand-based operating model—instead of seasonal pushes—to meet customers’ needs. In 2021, Gap acquired Context-Based 4 Casting Ltd. (CB4), a startup whose technology makes product recommendations that support new sales. In a statement about the acquisition, Gilligan said, “We believe artificial intelligence and machine learning will shape the future of our industry.”
No fortune teller can predict the future of retail, but Forrester, the global research firm, has an even better resource: Sucharita Kodali. Recognized as an expert on ecommerce, omnichannel retail, consumer behavior, and the online shopping space, Kodali researches ecommerce forecasting and trends, and authored “The State of Retailing Online” for the National Retail Federation. All those retailers enjoying their best year ever in 2021? They were probably reading Kodali’s reports on ecommerce—or, at the very least, her Twitter feed.
Shipping and logistics companies have faced plenty of challenges and victories since the pandemic began, but FedEx gets extra credit for delivering the first Covid-19 vaccines in the U.S. Vaccines present unique logistical challenges due to the conditions under which they must be transported and stored, but FedEx has established itself as a leader in the area, with operations to support temperature-controlled packaging, vehicles, containers, and facilities.
Lipstick and pants may have been relegated to storage in the work-from-home era, but hair color sales have soared. (Hair, after all, is a feature still visible in both a Zoom call and while wearing a mask). Direct-to-consumer hair color company Madison Reed doubled its sales in 2020, and Errett is determined to keep those customers committed to their DIY routines by rolling out more services, like digital video consultations, and brick-and-mortar Color Bars.
Web Smith’s 2PM is a subscription-based media company exploring the intersection of ecommerce, brands, and data. Smith’s weekly newsletter is a must-read for strategic thinkers in the industry. If there’s one nugget of wisdom retailers should take from Smith, it’s that the brands best-suited to the modern economy can seamlessly blend their media and commerce operations. That means a hybrid approach to retail that factors in product, content, and community. For companies curious about how to develop and execute that type of strategy, 2PM has a robust library of resources, a weekly newsletter, and office hours for consulting.
Anyone who made a purchase online this year has likely seen or accepted an offer to shop now, pay later. Klarna is a leader in the space, empowering consumers with an instant gratification alternative to the classic layaway plan. Shoppers receive their merchandise up front and pay for their purchases in four equal, interest-free installments, forgoing the hefty credit card interest fees. Millennials and Gen Z shoppers are drawn to the service because the pay-over-time option makes big-ticket purchases less daunting. Retailers love it because they can pay a small fee to Klarna and get those big-ticket items into customers’ hands.
Dick’s Sporting Goods has been riding a multi-billionaire dollar wave of success. Instead of resting comfortably with the status quo, the brand is reinvesting capital into new concepts and customer experiences, along with private label goods. Reimagined stores include features like batting cages and rock climbing walls. A new subsidiary brand, Public Lands, caters to outdoor enthusiasts. And the company isn’t leaving discount sales to competitors: It has debuted two off-price concepts—Overtime by Dick's Sporting Goods and Dick's Sporting Goods Warehouse—since 2020.
Packaging. It’s a critical element in retail and ecommerce, and an ever-present topic of discussion in sustainability. Lumi is bridging that divide with beautiful, eco-friendly solutions that appeal to brands, customers, and environmentalists. Jesse Genet learned the challenges of custom packaging firsthand through a previous startup, and is applying those lessons and her supply chain expertise to connect brands with custom packaging suppliers that are close to each brand’s shipping centers, thus reducing the environmental impact of packaging goods.
Loyalty is everything in retail. Retaining customers is cheaper than acquiring new ones, and Narvar is helping the world’s top retailers succeed at retention with unmatched post-purchase experience tools. Those include engaging order tracking, proactive messaging, and convenient returns, both via text and email. While the pandemic has impacted everything from inventory to delivery timetables over the last two years, Narvar customers have been able to improve their customer satisfaction scores with the platform’s messaging tools, and increase customer loyalty.
Catherine is VP of Marketing at Narvar. Prior to joining, she worked for a number of AdTech & MarTech companies, transforming marketing teams into growth catalysts.