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2021 From the editor-in-chief

Welcome to the 2021 RetailX UK Top500 report, in which we take stock of where UK retail stands after a year in which everything changed. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the growth of ecommerce and multichannel retail enormously, as shoppers who have now been through at least three lockdowns in which non- essential retail had to close, have turned online for more of their purchases. Retail has responded fast, expanding home delivery and click and collect as well as innovating with new ways to serve often vulnerable customers.

As a result, the new 2021 Top500 list looks very different from the one we published a year ago. Some retailers have expanded quickly, capitalising on their already strong digital capabilities and the luck of operating in a category deemed essential. Meanwhile, some household names have lost market share or even gone out of business. The pressures of a fast changing market have proved too much for some businesses shaped in previous centuries by now-changed buying habits. This report focuses in depth on how UK grocers are now able to deliver more, following a 2020 in which they often doubled the size of their distribution operations. At the same time, Brexit has now brought about a new trading relationship with the EU, bringing significant change for retailers that sell into that market. We assess how the new EU/UK free trade agreement has changed the way retailers are now trading from the UK’s new position as a third country.

In 2021, the challenge is how retail trades across channels at a time when more customers than ever are buying online. In this report, we analyse how successful Top500 retailers now sell by examining the tools and approaches that they have either adopted or discontinued. Category-specific analysis helps retailers to benchmark themselves against the most successful in the UK, as well as to learn what works in one of the most mature ecommerce markets in the world.

We’ve brought more case studies and practical examples than ever to this report in order to show exactly what retailers are doing to survive and prosper in these difficult and ever-changing times.

Our research findings reflect the ways in which retailers have focused on ensuring that the key components of ecommerce and multichannel retailing are in place, although sometimes reducing the ‘nice to have’ extras –things such as live chat – that come with highly convenient retailing. The changes reflect a very different retail environment, in which more customer service staff are currently working from home. Last year, we noted that more retailers were working to improve their businesses in important ways. This year, we’ve seen this commitment stepped up by several gears. Our congratulations go to this year’s Elite retailers, Amazon, Argos, Asda, Boots, Marks & Spencer and Tesco.

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