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Leading in the time of pandemic

The Elite and Leading groups of the Top500 represent those retailers that have led the way for the ecommerce and multichannel industry over the last year. It’s notable the two groups are dominated by those that have had advantages over a year that has been so challenging for many retailers. Often the advantage was because the goods they sell were essential or highly desirable in the Covid-19 pandemic, but often the advantage came from previous and steady investment in multichannel and ecommerce, enabling retailers to continue to deliver when customers most needed them.

This year’s Elite is made up primarily of multichannel retailers that were deemed essential and so could continue to trade through their shops while also selling online. Online-only retailers shone when they built on their previous performance, expanding delivery services in order to continue to offer convenient service to their customers. Added to that, those selling the goods that proved most important to locked down shoppers dominate both the Elite and Leading groups.

Conversely, those retail brands that have moved down groups include those that were disadvantaged both through Covid-19 lockdowns with stores that had to close, and following lockdowns as more people started to work from home, no longer visiting city centre shops during the course of their day and reducing their demand for formal clothing and other work-related products.


All of the members of this year’s Elite group had previously been ranked Elite – perhaps reflecting the fact that they had previously invested in the customer experience across sales channels, and were well-placed to do so in a year in which demand for their goods soared.

Amazon is ranked Elite for the seventh consecutive year. It’s both the only retailer to achieve this, and also the only pureplay that has consistently appeared in the Elite ranking. The fact it has done so reflects its ability to offer swift, convenient delivery for products that shoppers deemed essential in lockdown across channels that made up for its lack of UK stores. One factor in this has been its development of its own logistics business.

Argos, ranked Elite in six out of seven years, has, like Amazon, its own logistics business that delivers the general merchandise that shoppers wanted to buy over the year through same-day delivery and collection. Collection was made possible despite its non- essential stores being closed, because the retailer has hundreds of small format digital stores within branches of Sainsbury’s that could remain open.

Supermarkets were one of the few types of shop that many people continued to visit during lockdown – among them Tesco and Asda, which both return to this year’s Elite. Both succeeded in expanding capacity to meet demand across channels for both groceries and general merchandise.

Marks & Spencer, which remains in the Elite from last year, was able to remain open during lockdowns and its goods remained in demand – leading it to continue to invest in its multichannel business, and adding new services such as in-store mobile payments.

Boots, too, benefited from its position as an essential retailer over the last year, helping it to return to the Elite in 2021 after three years as a Leading retailer thanks to its strong capabilities in multichannel and mobile retailing, alongside flexible delivery and collection options.


This year’s Leading group includes retailers that have been able to expand and invest in their online and multichannel businesses over the year, secure in the knowledge that the demand is there. It includes grocers Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Waitrose, Morrisons, and Iceland, alongside DIY and homewares retailers B&Q, Screwfix, Wickes, Wilko, Dunelm and John Lewis, which all benefited as shoppers spending more time in their home had new levels of demand for the goods that they sold.

The most flexible fashion and sportswear retailers, from multichannel JD Sports, Next, Adidas and, again John Lewis, to pureplay Asos, are ranked Leading in this year’s index. Newcomers include brands Adidas and Louis Vuitton as well as Farfetch, whose platform is used both by independent fashion boutiques and by fashion brands to sell online to customers around the world. Grocers Iceland and Ocado are also in this group for the first time.

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