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Elite and leading retailers


A place in the Elite and Leading groups of the IRUK Top500 marks out the retailers that demonstrate leading practice in a competitive market. We take a look at how these have changed in recent years.

OVER THE FOUR YEARS that the IRUK Top500 index has been published, just nine companies have been named Elite retailers. These are the high-performance, high capability traders that are at the cutting edge of the ecommerce and multichannel industry in the highly competitive UK market. In total, 38 companies have appeared in the Leading group of retailers, which perhaps best exemplifies the ‘leading practice’ standard of UK RetailCraft. Here we take a look at how the two groups have been composed over that time, taking the four-year view in search of trends that may point to a longer-term direction of travel.


Amazon is the only company that has consistently remained in the Elite group of IRUK Top500 retailers since the first edition of this research in 2015. In this fourth year of publication, it’s joined in the Elite by Argos , Boots , M&S , Screwfix and Tesco . None are new to the top rank though. Argos and Boots, for example, have been listed as an Elite retailer in three out of four years. This is also the second – and consecutive – year of inclusion for Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

In 2018, the Elite group is represented by six retailers trading in eight categories, from fashion to grocery and home, garden and DIY. Four have a number of ‘departments’ while three sell consumer electronics. Department stores have been relatively well-represented in the Elite group over the four years: in 2015 there were five such stores, falling to four in subsequent years. Each yearly group of Elite retailers has also featured three selling consumer electronics. Perhaps department stores and consumer electronics retailers are more likely to sell goods made by other businesses and must therefore work harder to compete.

“What it means to be Elite changes every year, most notably in the Strategy & Innovation Performance Dimension”


Some 39 companies have been named Leading retailers over the four years of the index, including 19 that are included this year. The larger representation has perhaps meant that those included have come from a broader range of categories, with grocers (4) well-represented alongside department stores (5), fashion and apparel retailers (4), health and cosmetics (3) and consumer electronics. Less well represented are retailers from the children’s goods and digital goods categories, while footwear retailers are less well represented this year than in previous years.

Retailers that have not fallen below Leading in the last four years include Debenhams , Halfords , New Look , Tesco and John Lewis . The latter is this year named a Leading company after three years as an Elite retailer. Martin Shaw, head of research, RetailX, said, “Part of this change and churn across both groups comes are a result of the continually evolving focus of this index on ‘RetailCraft’. What it means to be Elite changes every year, most notably in the metrics considered in the Strategy and Innovation Performance Dimension. The change is also a reflection of the close-finish nature of this ‘race’. Retailers who are contenders for Elite and Leading are all innovating to some extent and they’re usually large companies that can afford to try out a lot of the newer technologies and practices sooner than others. You will notice, however, smaller companies that punch above their weight and rub shoulders with the others.”

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