- Warby Parker/Instagram
- The last 10 years of retail have been tumultuous, yes, but they’ve also been exciting to witness thanks to advancements in product tech, physical shopping experiences, and online shopping.
- Our list for the top 10 most notable retail companies of the decade includes tech giants like Amazon, Apple, and Google, along with brand-new entrants like Rent the Runway and Glossier.
- When we look back on the 2010s, we’ll remember these 10 notable companies for their impressive sales, commitments to larger social values, innovative products, and industry-wide impact.
Retail has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. The products themselves, along with how we shop for them, learn about them, and receive them, have all evolved – overall, for the better, we think.
In this decade, retail companies attacked problems of sustainability, convenience, and accessibility in new and creative ways, including (but not limited to) packaging design, physical shopping experiences, and shipping logistics. The rise of online shopping hasn’t made the transition easy, but many companies have risen to the challenge and written the beginnings of a playbook for how to succeed as a brand or retailer in the upcoming years.
Having covered and reviewed all types of products and companies, both old and new, I put together a hall of fame for the retail world of the 2010s, taking the following criteria into account:
- Sales, growth, and funding figures
- Mission-driven actions and practices
- Product innovation (“newness” and creativity)
- Influence on the retail industry or world at large
Below, I outline why I believe they’re so notable and call out one product that made them famous this decade.
We’ll remember the retail world of the 2010s by these 10 notable companies:
Amazon: An inescapable presence in your home
- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Through devices like Echo speakers and Fire TV streamers, Amazon has wiggled its way into our daily lives beyond just free two-day shipping. These convenient electronics let people gather information and enjoy entertainment in new ways, and their connection to Amazon’s existing services was so seamless that you had no choice but to become entrenched in the ecosystem.
In 2014, Amazon introduced the Echo and forever condemned anyone with the name “Alexa” to a lifetime of smart-assistant jokes. The Echo smart speaker was a major innovation at the time in that unlike Siri and Google Assistant, it didn’t require a screen in order to interact with it.
Even though some models were more successful than other experimentations (RIP, Echo Look), Echo devices are now a standard in the smart home world, holding their own against the devices from other tech giants like Google and Apple. According to Amazon’s SVP of devices and services, more than 100 million devices with Alexa built-in have been sold (as of January 2019).
The last decade at Amazon also saw the introductions of the Fire tablet (2011) and the Fire TV (2014), in addition to improvements on the Kindle e-reader and the acquisitions of Ring, Twitch, and Whole Foods. So whether you wanted to play games, watch shows and movies, read, keep your home secure, or shop for groceries, there’s now a way to do it with an Amazon device or service.
Warby Parker: The first of many direct-to-consumer successes
- Warby Parker/Instagram
Warby Parker is one of the most well-known examples of a new startup revolutionizing a long-neglected industry through the now-cliched method of “cutting out the middleman.” Anyone who has ever tried getting new, stylish glasses knows the problem: they’ve long been expensive and difficult to buy. By offering competitive prices (starting at $95 including prescription lenses), a variety of designs, and the ability to try on more than a few pairs at home, Warby Parker has made shopping for glasses much more affordable, convenient, and enjoyable.
We could say that the eyecare startup walked so other digitally native brands could run, but Warby is still running, opening stores across the nation (some of which even offer eye exams) and recently launching a contacts business. And, it’s still raising money for more expansions to come. Over eight rounds, it has raised nearly $300 million.
Its impact outside of business growth also can’t be ignored. Since its first day of launch in 2010, Warby has helped distribute glasses to people in need in partnership with VisionSpring as part of its Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program.
Everlane: Succeeding with simplicity and ‘radical transparency’
Transparency in the fashion world is rare, and if it means higher clothing prices, some consumers actually prefer to turn away and shop in ignorant bliss. Online clothing brand Everlane, on the other hand, abides by a concept it terms “radical transparency.” With every single item, it tells you the true costs of the materials, production, labor, and transportation involved, along with information about the factory it was made in (craftsmanship, worker safety, and eco-friendly practices are top factors).
What’s also “radical” and surprising about this popular clothing brand is that its fashion isn’t focused on of-the-moment trends. Since its beginnings, Everlane has stuck to classic, ageless basics like straight jeans, plain leather flats, and crewneck cashmere sweaters. In fact, in 2010, the debut item that prompted a waitlist of 60,000 people in five days was … a T-shirt. Everlane is also nontraditional in that it doesn’t hold regular sales. However, you can “Choose What You Pay” and get discounts of up to 50% off on select items.
The combination of ethical practices and versatile, high-quality style has struck a chord with millennial shoppers who are increasingly thoughtful about where and how their clothing is made and the longevity of their closets. In 2016, its revenue was $100 million, and while no new data has been released since, it’s probably safe to say the brand has grown even more.
Apple: Continuing to thrive in the post-Jobs era
- Hollis Johnson
Following the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, the world watched with bated breath to see where Apple would go without its pioneering leader. The world needn’t have worried.
Three major products released this decade – the iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods – became strong fixtures in the Apple ecosystem, with the AirPods being the company’s best bet for offsetting the decline of iPhone revenue.
Though some of Apple’s design decisions (e.g. removing headphone jacks) continue to be contentious and critics question its limits of innovation, the company remains highly popular and successful among consumers, who have no qualms about upgrading to the newest models every year. In 2018, there were 1.3 billion Apple devices in active use worldwide and the company’s total annual revenue exceeded $265 billion.
Looking ahead to the next decade, we’re interested in seeing if and how Apple maintains such numbers, or if its previous reliance on the iPhone proves to be a double-edged sword.
Rent the Runway: The closet of the future
- Rent the Runway/Instagram
No one should have to pay thousands of dollars for an outfit for a single event, but that’s exactly what cofounder Jenn Hyman’s sister did in 2008 and what got the wheels turning for the idea of Rent the Runway, a service that offers one-time rentals and long-term, unlimited rentals of designer clothing. The Unlimited plan ($159/month), introduced in 2016, can offer a monthly retail value of more than $10,000 depending on how often it’s used and the retail prices of the pieces rented. It’s all part of the company’s vision of creating a “closet in the cloud” that replenishes infinitely without contributing as much to apparel waste.
The true heart of Rent the Runway is an impressive logistics machine: its warehouse is the country’s largest single dry cleaner (measured by pounds cleaned per hour), a mammoth operation with clothing entering and leaving via black garment bag. With more than 9 million members to serve, the company has experienced some blips along the way and in September 2019 had to briefly halt service and turn away potential new members.
However, with new and innovative services like the recently announced partnership with W Hotels and an always-expanding supply of designers and styles, Rent the Runway is still well on its way to changing the way people dress for any occasion.
Target: A retail giant that never stops adapting
Everyone’s favorite store to get lost in evolved significantly in the last decade, from opening stores in Canada (and closing them shortly after), to launching a partnership with Italian fashion house Missoni that promptly sold out, to making new philanthropic and educational commitments.
Several changes made Target a better place to shop: it opened smaller format CityTarget stores in densely populated cities, started a subscription program for household essentials, launched more convenient pickup and shipping options like Store Pickup and Shipt Same-Day Delivery, and integrated CVS Health pharmacies into its stores.
Though it celebrated its 50th store anniversary and 110th company anniversary in 2012, it proved it could keep up with the times and with the interests of its shoppers by providing shelf space for interesting, up-and-coming startups such as Harry’s and Quip.
It also doubled down on sustainability efforts and introduced a Sustainable Product Standard, made stores and facilities more energy-efficient, and signed onto the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.
As one of the country’s largest retailers, it hasn’t fallen victim to the retail plague. It made $75.8 billion in total revenue in 2018, and its most recent earnings report shows Q3 revenue growth of 4.7% from last year to $18.7 billion. You can find Target stores in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, totaling to more than 1,800 stores.
Casper and Leesa: Going head-to-head in the mattress wars
Neither Casper nor Leesa invented the concept of an online mattress-in-a-box, but they certainly popularized it. Whereas shoppers 10 years ago asked, “Who would buy a mattress online, and how does that work?” shoppers today ask “Who wouldn’t buy a mattress online, and from which of the many, many brands should I order?”
By selling mattresses that cost just under $1,000, Casper’s revenue topped $400 million in 2018, so the demand for comfortable slabs of foam is clearly there – it appears that people simply weren’t sure where to buy them before or found traditional experiences inconvenient or too expensive. Startups like Casper and Leesa are also master marketers, creating unique brands and social initiatives that shoppers who grew up on the internet connect with more naturally.
A mattress that fits your body’s needs and preferences is the foundation of a good night’s sleep, but these new brands also know that a mattress isn’t the end of it. That’s why they’re also expanding into complementary accessories like sheets, pillows, bed frames, and even Glow Lights, determined to capitalize on our generation’s anxiety and exhaustion.
Glossier: Beauty that looks and feels authentic
While many companies launch a blog to accompany their product, Emily Weiss, a former Vogue fashion assistant, built her company Glossier the other way around. In 2010, she launched Into the Gloss, a website dedicated to the beauty routines of women and all the best products to try. Glossier came four years later.
Armed with the data and engagement of Into the Gloss’ ardently loyal readers, she could create a new brand that uniquely served its customers. Rather than join the scores of other beauty brands that simply told customers what they should use and aspire to, Glossier flipped beauty on its head and made products – like the wildly popular Boy Brow or Cloud Paint – that felt like they were addressing real wants and needs.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its ascent to an admirable $1 billion valuation, Glossier has remained tightly focused around community. Social media is an important part of how it shows the various and creative use cases of its products, and its limited number of beautifully designed physical outposts only increases its intrigue and prestige among its millennial fans, who line up around the block for access.
Patagonia: Proving that sustainability is a strong business model
- Ken Etzel/Patagonia
Almost by default, outdoor companies like Patagonia are connected to larger environmental missions. Since they encourage people to enjoy the outdoors, it follows that they should play a role in protecting those outdoors. As climate change has accelerated dramatically in the last decade to a degree we can’t ignore, so too has the urgency of outdoor retailers to play their part.
Over the years, Patagonia has supported grassroots organizations that are trying to fight back against the environmental crisis. In 2019, it began asking for donations from its community on Black Friday, and within 10 days, it gathered more than $10 million. Patagonia matched these donations and is giving $20 million to grassroots activists to solve issues related to water, climate, biodiversity, and more. It also pledges at least 1% of annual sales to the protection and restoration of the environment every year and has donated more than $100 million to date.
Other actions Patagonia has taken include producing clothing with sustainable materials (recycled bottles, recycled down, and more) and challenging President Donald Trump in court when he dramatically reduced the sizes of a number of national monuments. While its branded vests are ubiquitous in the finance industry, it’s becoming more careful about the companies it associates with. Earlier this year, it announced that it’s shifting its focus to working with “similar mission-driven companies that prioritize the planet.”
For leading with its values rather than profits, Patagonia was awarded the UN Champion of the Earth honor in 2019.
Google: Pushing the limits of what we think our phones and home gadgets can do
Though Google opened the 2010s with the Nexus smartphone, it was the Pixel, first released in 2016, that put Google’s name squarely on the map of phones worth buying. In the past, Google worked in partnership with other developers such as HTC to design its phones, but the Pixel line was Google’s first phone to be developed and designed in-house. And with a new SVP of devices and services on board, the company was well-equipped to make its mark in the world of smartphones and beyond.
The phones overall have received mixed reviews over the years, but one thing most critics can agree on is that the Google Pixel’s stunning camera is a standout feature and makes the Pixel the perfect phone for photo enthusiasts. Photo storage service Google Photos, now separated from Google+, has made it easy for users to store, organize, and share all these photos for free.
It’s worth mentioning that 2016 was a particularly important year because that was when Google introduced its personal voice assistant, Google Assistant. It’s now conveniently integrated into many Android and Google devices to perform tasks such as scheduling alarms, looking up directions, and much more. The Google Home family of devices, in particular, has been a major extension of the Google Assistant. Google’s smart speaker solution is a competitive alternative to Amazon’s Echo and helps homeowners who are Google fans integrate the utility and convenience of Google into everyday life.