31 Standout Brands Whose Resilience in the Face of Challenges Inspired Innovation

Presenting the winners of our first annual Retail Awards

Collage of products from Ulta Beauty, White Claw, Target, Harry's, Trader Joe’s, Mack and Popeyes
Our inaugural winners are a mix of legacy brands and nimble upstarts, from Ulta Beauty, White Claw and Harry's to Target, Trader Joe’s and Popeyes.

The business of retail has changed on virtually every front, from how products are made to how they’re marketed, sold and distributed. The mix of players has also evolved, with legacy brands sharing prominence with nimble upstarts—and learning a thing or two in the process. This year, in recognition of the steep challenges brands face—and the many innovations that their resilience has inspired—we’re honoring the standouts in the industry with our first annual Adweek Retail Awards. Executives from a number of the winning companies, including Ulta Beauty, Lerer Hippeau and Mack Weldon, will be sharing their insights live and in person at our Challenger Brands Summit March 4-5 in New York. We hope to see you there. —Kristina Feliciano

Best Returns Solution
Returnly offers what it describes as a one-of-a-kind fin-tech solution that provides instant credit at the point of return—meaning customers who use Returnly Credit get their replacement item before they’ve returned the original, says Eduardo Vilar, the company’s founder and CEO. This unusual approach is helping Returnly snag new customers such as Everlane while holding on to long-standing clients like Outdoor Voices and Untuckit. The company’s success in 2019 was bolstered by the launch of its international returns solution, which helps shoppers return items online from anywhere in the world. The service also includes localized tax, duty information, tracking and instant refunds and exchanges. In addition, Returnly is now offering an instant gift exchange program for Shopify Plus merchants, which allows recipients to purchase a preferred item before they return the original gift. —Richard Collings

Best Third-Party Marketplace
One of Poshmark’s most notable moves in 2019 was launching Home Market in June, a new vertical that allows the buying and selling of décor. This key new offering helped drive sales last year and will continue to do so in 2020, the company tells Adweek. Generating buzz for Poshmark earlier in the year, tennis champion Serena Williams joined its board and became a seller, a bit of a coup for the marketplace. The company also continued to innovate, debuting Posh Remit to collect and remit sales taxes on behalf of users, making it easier for them to do business. The tool was unveiled 10 months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can force ecommerce companies to collect and remit sales taxes. Equally interested in what happens offline, Poshmark organizes get-togethers across the country to foster a community among its users, including its annual gathering PoshFest. Poshmark today boasts 50 million users, 7 million of which are sellers, demonstrating the company’s scale and diversity. —Richard Collings

Best Payments Provider
Stripe processes hundreds of billions of dollars per year for retailers that range from cosmetics company Glossier and home-furnishings purveyor Wayfair to luxury consignment outfit TheRealReal. Its suite of services has earned the confidence of investors, with Stripe raising $250 million in additional funding last year from firms such as General Catalyst and Sequoia, which in turn gave it a pre-money valuation of $35 billion. The capital is being invested in international expansion, expanding Stripe’s products and extending its enterprise capabilities. In particular, the company built programmable infrastructure for international money movement, the Global Payments and Treasury Network, and added services such as “Connect” and “Billing.” It also introduced new products like Stripe Capital, to give businesses easier access to money, and the Stripe Corporate Card, to manage spending. —Richard Collings

Best Auto Retailer
Imagine a vending machine, only it’s eight stories high and sheathed in glass. And rather than snacks and beverages, it holds 27 vehicles ready for delivery. This patented innovation is a reality thanks to Carvana, and the company continues to refine it. In January, Carvana unveiled the latest version of its car vending machine in Miami, the 24th of its kind. Not only does it conveniently deliver cars; it also makes for great advertising. It’s no wonder then that Carvana has become the fastest-growing automotive retailer in the U.S. The key to its success? “It’s really just focusing on giving consumers control and introducing technologies to increase transparency,” says Ryan Keeton, Carvana’s co-founder and chief brand officer. The company is attempting to replace the traditional automotive dealership with its online car-purchasing and financing platform, making the process more convenient and cheaper for consumers. It doesn’t hurt that Carvana has a seven-day return policy for its vehicles and is expanding its soon-as-next-day delivery service, which is now in 161 markets across the U.S. As of the end of the third quarter, Carvana was more than doubling its sales year over year, with net sales for the first nine months of more than $2.8 billion. —Richard Collings

This story first appeared in the March 2, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Recommended articles