Success Secrets You Can Learn From Today’s Top Retailers

Success Secrets You Can Learn From Today’s Top Retailers

In the world of retail, every business must now market across both digital and physical channels. It doesn’t matter if you have a brick-and-mortar store, an e-commerce website or both. Cross-channel marketing is essential to success. The latest Sailthru Retail Personalization Index examines what it takes to succeed at cross-channel marketing. And it ranks the 100 retailers who are best at that game. Keep reading to find out what Sailthru measured. And see what you can learn from the top 10 retailers on the list.

How the Top Retailers Are Chosen

Sailthru’s process begins with a list of 250 retailers. The team members review these in a process called “experiencing the brand.” The testers evaluate the retailer’s site. They also review their app, email, product purchase experiences and so on. The reviews are done from the perspective of a customer. Sailthru then ranks retailers on 78 criteria in seven categories. These include site, email, mobile, offline, privacy, other digital and bonus. It then combines its review scores with data from 1,500 customer surveys. From this a final ranking emerges. (Read more about the Sailthru survey methodology.)

Drive Traffic to Your Website

Sell Your Business

Discover the Zoho Ecosystem

What the Best Retailers Do Right

“Customers are highly engaged on mobile and email, not just on site and in store,” said Jason Grunberg, VP of Marketing at Sailthru, when announcing the results. “The brands that performed best in the Retail Personalization Index do two things right: They deliver deep personalization on individual channels and they deliver experiences between channels that keep customers coming back.”

What do top brands have in common? In comparing the top 25 to those that did not make the top 100, Sailthru found:

  • Through their websites, 88% of the top 25 brands had personalized recommendations vs. only 21% of brands that didn’t rank.
  • Via email, 96% of the top 25 brands provided personalized product recommendations compared to 23% of unranked brands.
  • On mobile, 84% of the top 25 brands use push notifications vs. 10% of unranked brands.

Lessons from the Top 10 Retailers of 2019

Here’s a closer look at the top 10 cross-channel retailers for 2019 and what you can learn from each one.


Number one for the third year running, Sephora consistently delivers a unified experience across all channels and “pushes the envelope” with innovative events and customer service. Delivering excellence both in brick-and-mortar and online, it stands out for its generous rewards/loyalty program and triggered emails that engage customers with deep personalization.

Small Business Deals

What you can do: Use triggered emails such as abandoned cart notifications or discount offers to encourage purchasing and keep customers coming back. Build a community around your loyal customers by engaging with them on all channels, celebrating user-generated content and holding special events.


Nordstrom has long been known for its in-store customer service and this year it rose to number two by providing that same outstanding service online. The website stands out for personalized product recommendations, using customers’ shopping and browsing history to display personalized offers such as new markdowns on products they’ve viewed or new items from brands they love.

What you can do: Offer white-glove service such as curbside pickup, free alterations and personal shopping services. Take advantage of tools that can recommend products customers will like, both online and off. For example, loyalty program software can deliver the info you need to suggest purchases to shoppers in store based on past purchases.

Rent the Runway

This formerly online-only clothing rental business is now opening brick-and-mortar locations. User-generated content — product reviews and photos of customers wearing clothing they’ve rented—are key in creating a customer experience and building trust and loyalty. The company gathers oodles of details on members and uses them to provide spot-on recommendations of everything from style to what size to order.

What you can do: Customer reviews can be gold if you know how to use them. If your e-commerce website includes product reviews, try offering incentives to get customers to review items, and provide guidance about what types of details to include (the more, the better). Keep in mind that when you use customer data to deliver real value, customers will be more likely to share with you.

Home Depot

Home Depot’s website and mobile app excel at providing product recommendations, including suggesting add-on or related products that shoppers might need for their home improvement projects. Location-based services are also key for this retailer; shoppers can see what’s available at their local store and locate products within the store as well. The company’s website and blog share useful how-to information and ideas to inspire shopping.

What you can do: If you have more than one retail location, help customers differentiate them and find in-stock products at the store they want to visit. Use robust recommendation engines on your website that can suggest complementary products, too. Almost every business can benefit from offering “how-to” content; a clothing boutique can share how to put an outfit together for a clothing boutique or a housewares store can show how to make stir-fry.

Best Buy

With so much to sort through in the electronics world and so much riding on those decisions, Best Buy succeeds by providing thousands of product reviews and access to real-life product experts both in-store and online. Like Home Depot, their website is highly localized. Best Buy’s customer loyalty program also offers lots of value, including dedicated support and discounts.

What you can do: If you sell products that are pricey, very similar, and difficult to compare, offer all the tools you can to help shoppers sort them out. Product reviews, detailed product specs and product comparison tools on your website will help. However, there’s no substitute for the knowledge of a real-life person who can make suggestions and offer recommendations.


The discount shoe retailer stands out for its loyalty program which has increased sales by 6% year-over-year. An extensive personalization quiz tailors loyalty program offers to the specific shopper. Loyalty members get deep discounts, exclusive perks, members-only event invitations and rewards points that never expire.

What you can do: A loyalty program can be so much more than a punch-card. Implement loyalty program software that gathers detailed data on your best customers; then use that information to design rewards that will really motivate them. Don’t forget to treat your loyalty program members as VIPs and combine in-store and digital engagement opportunities.


Customization and personalization are key for this beauty retailer. Ulta’s mobile app has tons of quizzes, allows users to try on products virtually, and lets them set detailed preferences that help the app make recommendations. Rewards are tailored to individual customers’ preferences, while in-store events help to build relationships.

What you can do: Capture as much data as you can on your shoppers’ preferences. Listen to their feedback and use it to create the perfect product mix. Make your store a desirable destination with in-store events that drive engagement.

Urban Outfitters

Given its youthful target market, it’s no surprise this retailer scored points for its excellent mobile app. Product recommendations become more robust the more users engage with the website or app. Urban Outfitters also makes good use of user-generated content and provides detailed filters that let consumers shop based on brand, style, price and more.

What you can do: Particularly if you have a young customer base, your mobile experience is key. Use text message marketing, push notifications and geolocation to interact with shoppers both inside and outside your store.


The legendary activewear brand makes a splash with advertising that makes a statement. For example, campaigns that use celebrities and spotlight women athletes. The customer relationship starts with an extensive quiz that gathers information on customer preferences and then uses what is learned to generate highly personalized content. The loyalty program, Creators Club, is highly gamified, allowing customers to unlock new levels and discounts every time they interact with the retailer.

What you can do: Don’t be afraid to take a stand in your marketing message. Use your store to inspire your customers, not just sell to them. Treat your customers as equals in generating ideas for both digital content and store inventory.


Once online-only, this home furnishings retailer recently opened its first stores. Wayfair carries “zillions” of items in stock online. The site sorts, filters and gets accurate product recommendations. This keeps shoppers from getting overwhelmed. Wayfair offers free shipping among its many perks for loyalty program members. The company sells furniture. As a result, free shipping alone proves enough to make the loyalty program fee worth it. There’s also an augmented reality tool that lets shoppers see what furniture looks like in their homes.

What you can do: The more products you sell online, the better your search, filtering and recommendation functions need to be. Live chat helps keep customers on-site. It talks them through their options. Offer something worthwhile in your loyalty program. And try to get customers to pay to join.


More in: 1 Comment ▼

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

One Reaction
  1. It is nice that there are top retailers that you can look up to. You can get to know their story on how they succeed as well as the obstacles that they encountered along the way.