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The 10 most innovative retail companies of 2022

How retail companies like Faire, Food52, Stitch Fix, and GlossGenius are finding innovative new ways to engage consumers.

The 10 most innovative retail companies of 2022

Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative beauty, design, and style companies.

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As the pandemic stretched on, it continued to hurl obstacles at retailers, from worker shortages to new variants that kept consumers from shopping in store. But for some companies, these setbacks sparked creativity, prompting them to come up with solutions that would revolutionize shopping long after COVID-19 is a distant memory.

Startups brought new technology to brick-and-mortar stores. Mashgin’s self-checkout—powered by computer vision that accurately identifies items from any angle, no barcodes required—reduced the need for checkout staff at its more than 550 locations, including hospital cafeterias, airport shops, and stadiums. Wholesale marketplace Faire helped Main Street boutiques get back on their feet (and compete with Amazon) by offering them access to capital and tools for managing their inventory, while Thrilling supported vintage clothing shops by connecting them to online shoppers. GlossGenius helped entrepreneurs quickly launch beauty salons and spas, thanks to software that allows them to focus on increasing bookings and revenue.

Shopping online also got more exciting. Stitch Fix launched a new site called Freestyle that uses the company’s extensive data to create a personalized shopping experience for every customer, pulling together looks from various brands based on that person’s tastes, body type, and budget. Food52 became the definitive site for passionate home cooks, seamlessly blending crowdsourced recipes, stories, a marketplace, and cooking videos. Thanks to LTK, it was easier than ever for us to shop from our favorite influencers’ content. The Fascination created a one-stop shop to explore and purchase from the more than 250 direct-to-consumer brands that have mushroomed over the last decade. And Arrive gave any brand, in any industry, the logistical tools to launch a rental business within their existing website.

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1. Faire

For creating a marketplace that helps brick-and-mortar stores and small brands thrive outside of Amazon

Founded in 2017 by Square alums, Faire is a wholesale marketplace that helps 350,000 boutiques and independent retailers stock their shelves with curated products from 50,000 brands without the hassle of trade shows and paperwork. Faire tries to level the playing field by eliminating inventory risk by allowing vendors to see if a product resonates with customers before placing a big order, and providing access to capital. The company’s new Open With Faire product allows aspiring shopkeepers to apply for up to $20,000 in Faire credit to purchase inventory, with a 60-day grace period before payment is due. For brands, the platform offers sales, marketing, and analytics services that support their growing businesses. As Faire expands—it pushed into Europe this year—it helps Main Street shops better take on Amazon and major chains, while also allowing newer brands to surface their products with retailers. In 2021, Faire landed $400 million in Series G funding, bringing its valuation to $12.4 billion, and was on track to do over a billion dollars in sales.

Faire is No. 26 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022. Click here for more on how the company has helped local retailers and brands.

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2. Food52

For transforming a passionate community of home cooks into a powerhouse media empire

Founded in 2009 by New York Times editors, Food52 began as a website that curated recipes from everyday home cooks, bridging the gap between gourmet cooking and food blogs. For a decade, the site cultivated a passionate following, evolving to include an online marketplace that sells more than 5,000 kitchen goods from small brands, including its own Five Two line of kitchen products that are designed in-house and based on reader insights. Over the past 18 months, the company has made strides in spinning its robust content arm into an even more powerful—and broad—commerce platform. In the Spring of 2020, it launched two new verticals, Home52 and Drinks52, which feature both stories and product recommendations. A few months later, it launched its own OTT streaming app, with a lineup of cooking shows. In 2021, Food52 strengthened its product offerings by acquiring both the Scandinavian-inspired cookware brand Dansk and Schoolhouse, a lighting and lifestyle goods company. These investments were funded by the VC firm The Chernin Group, which acquired a majority stake in Food52 in 2019, and it tripled Food52’s valuation to $300 million. The company is now preparing to launch a flagship store in New York City that will include a live test kitchen and more than triple its current production facilities. It’s also working on the launch of its own brand of pantry staples. Food52 expected to hit $120 million in revenue in 2021—nearly 90% coming from commerce—up from $32 million in 2019.

Food52 is No. 28 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022.

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3. Mashgin

For making automated checkouts accessible to any store

Automated checkouts are everywhere, but most require the customer to scan a finicky barcode. Mashgin, which launched in 2013, has developed self-checkout technology that uses computer vision to identify items presented from virtually any angle and instantly rings them up. This makes it easy for customers to scan produce, plates of food items, and packaged goods that have inconsistent packaging with 99.9% accuracy. In 2021, Mashgin expanded its technology to accommodate more than 10,000 SKUs and also integrated with several loyalty systems, allowing customers to redeem promotions. Over the course of the year, it grew by 300%, to 900 kiosks across 550 locations, which included convenience stores, corporate cafeterias, stadiums, hospitals, and airports.

4. Arrive

For bringing the sharing economy to every product category

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Arrive launched in 2017 as a rental service for outdoor gear like tents, coolers, and sleeping bags. In 2021, the company grew quickly, increasing the number of orders shipped weekly by 300% year-over-year, thanks in part to the fact that the pandemic made camping more appealing. Arrive is now pivoting to become a full-service reverse logistics platform that will allow any brand or retailer to launch rental and resale at scale. While companies like CaaStle have brought rentals to the fashion industry, Arrive aims to bring the sharing economy to retailers in other categories, starting with the outdoors. Arrive has now created circular commerce gear rental programs for Eddie Bauer and Public Lands, the new retail chain launched by Dick’s Sporting Goods.

5. LTK

For helping influencers become small business owners

LTK, founded in 2011, helps more than 150,000 social media influencers from more than 100 countries monetize their audiences and create their own e-commerce shops. It connects them to more than 5,000 brands, for which they can create original content and receive a share of the revenue they generate by driving sales. In 2021, the company combined the two divisions of its business—an app called LikeToKnowIt, which allows customers to shop products from social media posts, and RewardStyle, which helps influencers generate revenue from brand partnerships—rebranding as LTK. It also made it more efficient for content creators to start their own online business and more intuitive for consumers to shop from them. LTK introduced features like search filters that allow consumers to search for products in an influencers’ past posts, a price drop alert, and gift guides. Thanks to these updates, LTK drove roughly $3 billion in annual retail sales from these influencers.

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6. GlossGenius

For allowing beauty professionals to focus on growing their businesses

Salons, spas, and studios can offer budding entrepreneurs a gateway into the world of business. But it can be easy to get bogged down with administrative burdens that distract from providing customers great service. GlossGenius, founded in 2015, is a platform designed to help small business owners in the spa and salon space quickly launch their storefronts with a software suite that helps them increase bookings and revenue. In 2021, GlossGenius focused on helping these small businesses bounce back from the struggles of the pandemic. It launched a concierge onboarding service, which sends an ambassador from GlossGenius to help business owners get up and running quickly. It also debuted a contactless card reader that can be customized with colorful prints—including cheetah and tie-dye—and that syncs with the platform’s scheduling, website, and client management system. GlossGenius was on track to surpass $1 billion in transaction volume in 2021.

7. Stitch Fix

For bringing discovery back into online shopping

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When Stitch Fix launched a decade ago, it aimed to disrupt traditional retail by delivering subscription-based boxes of clothes from a variety of brands (including, later, its own in-house labels). In 2019, Stitch Fix was Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies’ cover story for its sophisticated use of human stylists and AI to curate selections for subscribers. In 2021, the company took this approach to the next level by launching an e-commerce website called Freestyle that uses the brand’s extensive data to create a personalized shopping experience for each customer, pulling only styles that match their aesthetic, body shape, and price point (and also happen to be in stock). In other words, the platform offers real-time personalization. It also developed a new technology called Design the Line, which uses its data science to predict how well a style will perform with clients, based on an image of that outfit. Stitch Fix is using this data to decide what new looks to design—and what inventory to bring on from partner brands. It’s also sharing these insights with brands to help them make smarter decisions about what inventory to order.

8. The Fascination

For creating a one-stop shop for all our favorite DTC brands

As direct-to-consumer brands have proliferated over the last decade, consumers have had to shop across multiple sites to buy clothes, personal care products, food, and home goods. In 2021, with $1 million in seed funding, The Fascination launched its one-stop-shop for people to buy products from more than 250 DTC brands, including Allbirds, Lalo, and Brightland. The site offers shopping guides and product reviews, and spotlights brands from underrepresented founders.

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9. Thrilling

For bringing vintage shopping into the 21st century

There are thousands of vintage boutiques on Main Streets around the country, many of which are owned and curated by women and people of color. Thrilling, an e-commerce startup, is connecting these small businesses with online shoppers. It was cofounded in 2018 by Brad Mallow and Shilla Kim-Parker, former head of business development for Lincoln Center. Kim-Parker was concerned about the fashion industry’s terrible impact on the planet—and eager to help minority-owned businesses survive in the digital age. In 2021, as the pandemic battered small businesses, Thrilling took off, allowing consumers to buy curated vintage garments online. In April, the platform raised $8.5 million in Series A funding, which allowed it to grow its network. It now partners with more than 600 stores in 200 cities, 95% of which are owned by women and people of color. The platform quickly gained a following among celebrities, including Zerina Akers, Beyoncé’s stylist, and Mona May, the iconic costume designer of Clueless.

[Illustration: Daniel Salo]

10. Parks Project

For protecting U.S. National Parks with fashion-forward brand partnerships

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The California-based apparel, home goods, and gear brand Parks Project is putting its money into protecting America’s National Parks. As alums of buy-one-give-one pioneer Toms, cofounders Keith Eshelman and Sevag Kazanci saw the opportunity to create a brand that would donate a portion of each purchase toward conservation work. In 2016, the U.S. National Parks tapped the Project to become an official partner. The company then began to collaborate with lifestyle brands like National Geographic and Igloo, as well as artists like Greta Van Fleet and Shepard Fairey, to create a line of hip and nostalgic products, emblazoned with parks-related iconography. Parks Project’s line now includes T-shirts, camp chairs, coolers, and more. At the start of 2021, the brand had raised nearly $1 million for parks since its founding. It more than doubled that figure last year, thanks to a series of smart brand partnerships with companies like Madewell, Free People, and REI. The brand also grew its team to 22 employees, hosted cleanup programs across the country, and reinstated its Volunteer Alliance, which connects leaders to volunteers to host workdays at parks.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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