It’s not a great time to be a big retailer. Margin-defending consumer goods companies are increasingly cutting out the middle man and selling direct to the customer and nimble online-only competitors are gnawing away at the market. Meanwhile customer loyalty is more elusive than ever - shoppers will feel no remorse about visiting a shop to get hands on with a product before buying it from a rival that’s offering it for a cheaper price.
No wonder not a single retailer made it into the top 10 of MT's Britain's Most Admired Companies (BMAC) this year. But there’s still plenty of opportunity out there for those who get it right, and not just in ecommerce. Shops that make life easier for consumers, that hook them in with a strong brand and provide a more enjoyable experience, are still capable of pulling people through their doors.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the most admired retailers in Britain – created by merging the scores from the three BMAC retail categories (for more on the methodology, click here). The usual suspects are here, and there are a few surprises too.
1. Aldi, 87.3
This might not come as much of a surprise. The German discount supermarket chain has been growing at an astonishing rate as it tears market share away from the established players in its sector. Its popularity isn’t just down to super-low prices – it has also been pursuing middle class shoppers with reasonably-priced prosecco, seafood and steaks.
2. Greggs, 86.2
The pasty-monger has changed tack under CEO Roger Whiteside, who took the reins back in 2013. Gone are the in-store bakeries churning out low margin loaves of bread. In their place is a focus on ‘food-to-go’ - sandwiches, soups and salads for workers in need of a quick and cheap (at least by Pret a Manger standards) lunch. Its transformation is epitomised by the launch this year of a ‘sourdough pasty’, though its traditional steak bakes and sausage rolls are still available for the less sophisticated of us to munch on.
3. Dixons Carphone, 85.3
Mergers are always a risky business, but the one between Dixons Retail and Carphone Warehouse seems to have paid off. After the demise of Phones4U and Comet, the company (parent of PC World and Currys) has cornered the market in bricks and mortar electrical retail. Now it’s going after a slice of the burgeoning and potentially lucrative ‘internet of things’ market.
4. John Lewis Partnership, 84.5
Now occupying the same warm space in the hearts of the British public that Marks & Spencer used to, John Lewis has enjoyed a growth spurt over the past few years. That’s partly thanks to the success of its hugely popular Christmas advertising campaigns, but there’s also a lot to be said for the employee ownership model which Andy Street, the former boss of its core John Lewis brand, credits with much of its success.
5. AO World, 83.3
The sole online-only retailer on the list, this white goods seller has had mixed financial success since floating in 2014. But though its earnings figures might have disappointed investors AO has continued to grow rapidly, not just in the UK but in Europe too. Will it be able to maintain that momentum post-Brexit?
Read more: Britain's Most Admired Companies 2016
6. Next, 83.1
Britain’s leading clothes retailer has had to blame unseasonable weather for a few difficult results over the past year or so. But it remains a profitable business that has staved off the long-term ills afflicting its long-time rival Marks & Spencer – for now at least.
=7. Lidl, 81.9
Usually mentioned in the same breath as its fellow German supermarket that tops this list, Lidl also has much to brag about in its own right, with a similarly impressive run of strong growth. The discounter has been keen to push its credentials as a supporter of British farmers.
=7. Pets at Home, 81.9
You can buy cheap and high quality dog food and cat litter from Amazon and most supermarkets these days, but there’s clearly still room for pet suppliers on Britain’s out-of-town retail parks. Pets at Home has invested in in-store vets, nutrition consultants and pet groomers to get the most out of bricks and mortar.
9. Tesco, 80.9
Britain’s largest retailer has done remarkably well in this year, little more than two years on from its embarrassing accounting scandal. It beats fellow big supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – perhaps testament to the enduring resilience of its brand.
10. Poundland, 80.5
Another discounter, Poundland has enjoyed a lightning-quick run of growth over the last few years and now has more than 600 stores after acquiring its rival 99p Stores last year. In July it was bought by the South African giant Steinhoff for not one, but £597m.