A survey of 177 self-made millionaires found that 68% of them regularly read biographies of other successful people.
It’s easy to see why this is the case: By learning about how other people became successful, you can pick up useful tips and learn about potential mistakes before you make them. It helps you find the path to your own success.
For these reasons, ecommerce merchants would be wise to take a similar approach and learn more about the top brands in the industry. So, let’s take a look at the most successful brands in the ecommerce industry and review what they had to do to rise to the top.
The Top 10 Brands in Ecommerce
The top 10 U.S. companies by ecommerce sales all share one thing in common: They understand that infrastructure is absolutely vital to success in this industry.
Just a couple of decades ago, customers were more patient — they were willing to wait a week or two for their packages to arrive. But people now expect their orders to be delivered in a matter of days rather than weeks.
In order to climb to the top, these ecommerce companies had to invest heavily in their warehousing and shipping methods (Note: 2019 ecommerce sales figures were forecasted totals):
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $282.52 billion
Amazon isn’t just the most successful ecommerce company — it’s one of the most successful companies regardless of industry. In the 2019 list of Fortune 500 companies, Amazon ranked No. 5.
Web design has played a key role in producing Amazon’s staggering sales figures. The homepage is full of links to featured products and collections. Product pages direct the user to other items with sections such as “Frequently bought together” and “What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?“ Everywhere they go, Amazon visitors are exposed to products that they might not have otherwise seen.
Of course, Amazon is also successful because of its world-class infrastructure. The company has set the pace for the industry with its promise of two-day shipping for Amazon Prime members. Now, Amazon is trying to get even faster and make one-day shipping the standard.
This is possible because Amazon is constantly expanding its distribution network of fulfillment centers. Amazon has also invested in state-of-the-art logistics technology to make each warehouse as efficient as possible.
What Amazon Did Right in 2019
To meet its goal of faster delivery, Amazon will need to make its already impressive infrastructure even more efficient.
In 2019, Amazon announced plans to open new fulfillment centers in Florida, Utah, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Ohio and Illinois. The company announced it was going to open a new robotics innovation hub in Massachusetts as well.
Amazon will also be adding thousands of locations to its Counter program, which allows customers to accept their packages at staffed pickup points.
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $36.34 billion
While eBay first found success as a consumer-to-consumer auction site, the majority of sales now made through this marketplace are businesses selling new products at a fixed price. With annual sales in the tens of billions of dollars, this transition has clearly worked out well for the company.
What eBay Did Right in 2019
Starting in June 2019, all eBay listings are now mobile-friendly by default. This was undoubtedly a smart move, given that mobile devices have been a more popular way to browse the internet than desktops since 2016.
Also, eBay became yet another company to take a page from Amazon and start its own fulfillment service. In July 2019, the company announced its plans to launch Managed Delivery in 2020, which will offer product storage, packaging and shipping to eBay sellers.
Another notable story for 2019: eBay showed it’s willing to go the extra mile to take care of sellers on the platform.
Stockouts and unresolved disputes can lead to eBay sellers being penalized. But in the case of natural disasters, these situations may be unavoidable. From Hurricane Dorian in Florida to wildfires in California, eBay protected sellers from being penalized due to extenuating circumstances. This gives sellers a reason to remain loyal to eBay instead of drifting off to another marketplace.
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $27.81 billion
Walmart is the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, and it has a particularly large presence in one section of the ecommerce industry: groceries.
Amazon got into the grocery game with its 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods and its 500 retail stores; however, the No. 1 ecommerce brand still has a lot of catching up to do with Walmart in this regard. Specifically, Walmart offers in-store grocery pickup at more than 3,100 stores and grocery delivery from over 1,600 locations.
What Walmart Did Right in 2019
Grocery sales made up 1.6% of ecommerce sales in the U.S. in 2018, and this figure is expected to grow to 3.5% by 2023. In other words, within the next five years there will be more than twice as many annual online grocery sales.
Walmart is poised to make the most of that growth. It’s already a big player in this area and able to use its thousands of stores as refrigerated ecommerce hubs. Unlike competitors that would need to build out these facilities, Walmart already has fresh vegetables, meat and other perishables close to customers and ready for delivery.
The retailer also launched a new subscription service in 2019, Delivery Unlimited, that offers unlimited free delivery on groceries (as opposed to the standard fee of $9.95 per order) for an annual fee of $98.
This deal should lead to even more people ordering their groceries from Walmart. The beauty of an annual subscription is that it encourages customers to make as many purchases as possible in order to get the most value out of the arrangement.
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $22.93 billion
Apple shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to ecommerce web design.
While the takeout menu approach works for Amazon and its large inventory, the Apple site features a more streamlined and sleek design. This is a better fit for its relatively limited selection of high-end products.
What Apple Did Right in 2019
Apple took a big step toward improving its infrastructure by breaking ground on a $1 billion, 133-acre campus in November 2019. The Austin, Texas, site will be used to manufacture and distribute the all-new Mac Pro.
5. The Home Depot
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $10.07 billion
The Home Depot serves as yet another example of the importance of infrastructure. It’s no coincidence the company has one of the biggest online sales figures and was also included in IndustryWeek’s top 25 supply chains of 2019.
Automated lockers for in-store pickups have become a regular feature. Half of The Home Depot’s online orders are in-store pickups, and these lockers make the process easy for everyone.
The Home Depot is also on the cutting edge of delivery techniques, as it’s partnered with the crowdsourcing driver apps Roadie and Deliv to make its distribution network larger and more flexible. With the help of these apps, The Home Depot car delivery is now avaliable for 40% of the U.S. population, and van delivery is available for 70%.
What The Home Depot Did Right in 2019
In 2019, The Home Depot made improvements to its website with the goal of increasing B2B sales.
First of all, the retailer added an administrator feature that allows businesses to set up a hierarchy of additional purchasers on their accounts. Another new feature allows users to upload their purchase history to QuickBooks, and there are now auto-populated pages that make it easy for users to set up repeat orders.
In addition to these new features, the look of The Home Depot’s website is different now: The company launched a redesigned homepage based on the feedback of over 1,500 customers.
The Home Depot also reached a milestone with its distribution network in 2019 — next-day delivery is now available to 50% of the U.S. population. And with new fulfillment centers opening in the Dallas and Seattle areas, along with major renovations planned for its Hagerstown, Maryland, fulfillment center, The Home Depot’s delivery capabilities are only getting stronger.
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $7.71 billion
The bulk discount chain Costco was slow to catch on to ecommerce at first. Initially, the company believed customers would buy more items when they made the trip to a physical store, so that was the channel Costco prioritized. In recent years, Costco has seen the light and invested more in ecommerce.
Costco realized its online store could be used to move products with a limited in-store shelf life and ones that just weren’t selling well. Then, the retailer saw ecommerce was an effective way to move everything. By the end of 2018, customers were able to order online from every Costco store.
In part, Costco was pushed into investing in ecommerce by the need to keep up with its chief competitor, Sam’s Club.
Sam’s Club has an Amazon Prime-like “Plus” membership that offers free shipping with no order minimum. In 2018, Sam’s Club shut down 10% of its stores, turning many of them into dedicated ecommerce distribution centers. Sacrificing brick-and-mortar retail sales for faster shipping shows just how dedicated Sam’s Club is to ecommerce.
In response, Costco started offering two-day delivery on orders over $75 and expanded its same-day grocery delivery partnership with Instacart. The company also equipped store associates with tablets to facilitate omnichannel transactions in nearly 200 stores.
What Costco Did Right in 2019
Costco’s efforts to improve the ecommerce side of its business continued in 2019. The company added lockers to over 100 stores to encourage more in-store pickup orders and started a pilot program with Instacart for free prescription drug delivery on orders over $35.
Another move Costco made in 2019 was make more popular brands available online. It added new television models from Sony and Samsung and the latest generation of Apple products to the inventory available on its website.
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $7.68 billion
Wayfair’s ecommerce success has been driven by data.
The online furniture store captures four terabytes of data every day and tracks 40 billion customer actions per year. It also employs a team of 120 data scientists to interpret this data, which has allowed the retailer to precisely anticipate demand and establish a particularly efficient distribution network.
Reliable shipping is especially important for a direct-to-consumer company like Wayfair. With a finely tuned algorithm that accounts for inventory data, product characteristics and many other factors, it all runs seamlessly.
What Wayfair Did Right in 2019
Keeping customers happy can be a challenge in ecommerce, considering you generally don’t get a chance to interact with them in person. If you don’t respond quickly or thoroughly enough to customers’ questions and concerns, they’ll feel like you don’t value their business. In this case, they might be convinced they should seek out another store that’s more attentive.
In October 2019, Wayfair opened a new campus in Massachusetts that is set to add 300 new members to its customer service team. This will give the company the needed support to retain its current customers and maintain a good reputation.
8. Best Buy
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $7.53 billion
Best Buy’s ecommerce revenue experienced double-digit growth in 2019. This was the result of increased traffic to its website combined with higher average order values. Its total revenue growth was in the low single digits over the same period, which shows that online sales are becoming an increasingly important part of its business. Overall, ecommerce revenue now makes up 15% of Best Buy’s total U.S. revenue.
The expansive brick-and-mortar footprint of Best Buy (over 1,200 stores) has been another contributing factor to its growing ecommerce sales, as about 40% of online sales are in-store pickup orders. And these stores double as fulfillment centers for Best Buy’s online operation, giving the retailer a leg-up in building its distribution network.
What Best Buy Did Right in 2019
To accommodate this growth in ecommerce sales, Best Buy has invested heavily in its fulfillment and delivery capabilities.
With the help of Bastian Solutions and AutoStore, Best Buy outfitted its warehouses with a new vertically stacked bin storage system and bin-retrieving robots. This system allowed Best Buy to cut its shipping estimates from five or six calendar days to just two days.
In 2019, Best Buy also started to allow customers to trade in phones for new devices through its website — this service was previously only available in-store.
9. Qurate Retail Group
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $7.54 billion
It was easy for Qurate Retail Group, which owns the home shopping television channels QVC and HSN, to transition to ecommerce. One of the biggest challenges with ecommerce in general is you need to convince people to purchase a product without them getting a chance to experience it in person. This is a problem workers at home shopping channels have had to deal with since launching in the 1980s — they’re used to it.
Much of Qurate’s success is due to its focus on marketing. Qurate has invested in top talent for its in-house digital marketing agency, and the company utilizes machine-learning tools it picked up from Zulilly (acquired in 2015) to make its advertising more targeted and effective.
What Qurate Did Right in 2019
In February 2019, Qurate launched a new mobile app called Q Anytime that hosts live and on-demand videos and is updated with new content every two hours. Videos are shoppable, meaning users can tap on a video to immediately purchase an item being showcased, which is the key feature of the app.
Along with all the other top ecommerce brands, Qurate is constantly improving its distribution network. Over the next few years, the company will be combining the HSN and QVC fulfillment networks to increase package consolidation and overall efficiency. This move is expected to reduce the average delivery time by two days.
Qurate is also opening a new fulfillment center in Pennsylvania, and will be moving toward a leased (as opposed to owned) model for its fulfillment centers to improve flexibility and reduce long-term capital requirements.
2019 Ecommerce Sales: $7.44 billion
In 2019, Macy’s hit a milestone: The retailer has now seen double-digit growth in its online sales for over 40 straight quarters.
Macy’s ecommerce success has been driven in part by its Vendor Direct program, which allows brands to list items on Macy’s website but send them directly to the customer instead of going through Macy’s distribution network (this is also known as “dropshipping”). Vendor Direct now accounts for 10% of online sales, and it’s doubled the number of products that are available on Macy’s website.
What Macy’s Did Right in 2019
Again, in ecommerce, speed is everything. Customers have been conditioned over the years to expect faster and faster delivery. If you can’t keep up, you’re sure to lose customers to your competitors.
In October 2019, Macy’s started a pilot program that will offer free same-day shipping for hundreds of thousands of items to 30 major metropolitan areas. This is an expansion of a previous program in which Macy’s offered free same-day shipping for a more limited selection of products to five cities. At this pace, same-day shipping may soon be available across the entire Macy’s service area.
What We Learned
So, what exactly can we learn from these top brands?
The most obvious takeaway is the across-the-board emphasis on infrastructure and faster shipping. Every single one of the top brands invested in this area.
Also, from eBay making its listings mobile-friendly by default to Qurate Retail Group launching a new mobile app, the top brands are making an effort to improve their mobile experience.
Thankfully, it’s easy to make your site mobile-friendly with modern page builder tools. For example, Shogun has a screen settings feature that allows you to create unique widescreen, desktop, tablet and mobile designs for the same page. That way, your site will look good regardless of the device that’s used to view it.