01 / Groupon >>
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.
02 / Trader Joe's >>
For becoming bigger than Whole Foods while retaining its down-home image. The grocery chain's limited-selection, high-turnover model allows it to buy large quantities, secure deep discounts, and stock its shelves with a winning combination of yuppie-friendly staples (cage-free eggs, organic blue agave sweetener) and affordable luxuries. Its 344 U.S. stores sell an estimated $1,750 in merchandise per square foot, more than double Whole Foods' tally.
03 / Marks & Spencer >>
For its aggressive pursuit of sustainability. In the past year, the U.K. company has pioneered charging for plastic bags, significantly reduced packaging, and launched a clothing recycling venture with Oxfam. It has also committed to becoming the first major retailer to ensure that six of the key raw materials it uses—soya, cocoa, beef, leather, coffee, and palm oil—will come from sustainable sources that do not contribute to deforestation.
04 / Amazon >>
For leading the way into the digital book market with the Kindle—and setting off a major shift in the public's reading habits. And alhough competition is fierce in the e-reader universe, Amazon is still the dominant player in online commerce.
05 / eBay >>
For leading the charge on mobile commerce. This year alone, eBay expects to sell $4 billion in goods via smartphones and tablets, more than double its figures from 2010 and well above those from any other retailer. Its core iPhone app has been downloaded some 15 million times, and the company is releasing a series of interest-based mobile apps focusing on fashion, motors, electronics, and home and garden.
06 / 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.
07 / Starbucks
For listening to its customers—really. Although the feedback site MyStarbucksIdea.com 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.
08 / 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.
09 / 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.
10 / 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.
[Photograph by: Saverio Truglia]