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Fast Company offers a list of what it calls the world’s 10 most innovative retailers, and interestingly, it puts Groupon -which isn’t actually a retailer - at the top of the list. However, it says that Groupon deserves the accolade “for integrating web and the real-world shopping experience, changing consumer behavior, democratizing small businesses, and spawning an entire new category. The fastest-growing company in web history, Groupon's flash deal site marries cents-off coupons to a Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy. The company broke into the black just seven months after inception; globally, more than 500 copycat sites have already sprung up.”

Also making the list, in order:

• Trader Joe’s, “for becoming bigger than Whole Foods while retaining its down-home image ... Its 344 U.S. stores sell an estimated $1,750 in merchandise per square foot, more than double Whole Foods' tally.”

• Marks and Spencer, “for its aggressive pursuit of sustainability.”

•, “for leading the way into the digital book market with the Kindle--and setting off a major shift in the public's reading habits.”

• eBay, “for leading the charge on mobile commerce.”

• Apple, “for creating platforms and products that breed entirely new businesses, including the App Store, the new iTunes 10, the Apple TV digital storefront, and the iPad, a screen that's better suited than the iPhone to leverage online buying.”

• Starbucks, “for listening to its customers - really. Although the feedback site was originally panned, almost 98,000 ideas have been submitted, and 100 have been adopted. Among them: donating unsold pastries to local homeless shelters and food kitchens, giving baristas name badges, selling reusable sleeves, and bringing back Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.”

• Shopkick, “for bridging the in-store and mobile retail experience. Beyond rewarding users with perks as soon as they enter a store, Shopkick's location-aware smartphone app also guides users through physical retailers, letting them see reviews and multimedia content. Best Buy, Macy's, and American Eagle have already signed on as partners.”

• Ikea, “for attacking waste by selling its used furniture online in Sweden, and making its venture capital unit's first investments. Ikea Greentech is dedicated to supporting ventures in alternative energy solutions and lighting that might lead to the development of products for Ikea. The company has also bought German and French wind farms to cut its carbon footprint.”

• Urban Outfitters, “for nurturing very distinct, successful, and quirky retail brands, including the youth-oriented Urban Outfitters, the romantic and sophisticated Anthropologie, and the high-end, bohemian Leifsdottir.”
KC's View:
You probably could quibble about the companies on the list and maybe even the rationale, but it seems to me that what they all have in common is a willingness to engage in game-changing tactics and strategies. They’re not accepting the status quo, but also are willing, to varying degrees, to challenge conventional thinking and go for the big, dramatic move.

Which I think is a prerequisite for survival in 21st century retailing.