The five cutting-edge retailers highlighted in this cover story are driving the industry forward thanks to a dedication to technological innovation that furthers their unique position in the market. They are building a differentiated shopper experience while simultaneously pushing their organizations to new levels of financial success. As consumers and retailers continue to develop a digital-first mindset the retailers named to RIS’ third Retailers That Matter feature are stacking their respective organizations with digital horsepower and setting the standard upon which the rest of the industry will be judged. While the members of this list can certainly be debated, there is no denying that each one “matters” and is making its presence felt throughout retail. Congratulations to Amazon, Sephora, TJX, The Home Depot and lululemon for being named the five retailers that matter.

Amazon – The Digital Disruptor Any conversation about today’s most relevant retailers will likely start and end with Amazon. The e-commerce giant has revolutionized retail over the past 23 years and continues to drive the industry forward with innovation after innovation. Amazon is the original e-commerce disruptor, redefining operations, supply chain efficiency and consumer expectations over the past two decades. The rest of the industry has been forced to either alter their approach to keep pace with the $136 billion dollar retailer or watch their market share dwindle away. Customers flock to Amazon for its competitive prices, vast product array, and quick and economical delivery options. In fact, 55% of online shoppers now begin their product search on Amazon, opting for the site’s internal search capabilities over search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo, says BloomReach’s “State of Amazon 2016” report. The key to the e-commerce leaders success lies in its extremely popular Prime membership program that offers participants free two-day shipping on eligible purchases as well as unlimited access to over 2 million songs and 20,000 movies and television shows. It is estimated that Prime has more than 50 million members and that nearly half of all U.S. households have an Amazon Prime membership, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. The benefits of a Prime membership are obvious for even moderate or light online shoppers, and its $99 annual fee can be quickly offset by delivery savings. The service is so popular that it has even spawned its own global holiday: Prime Day. Once a year Amazon hosts a massive promotional event that features exclusive deals for Prime members. On Prime Day 2016, held on July 12, millions of shoppers made a purchase on the site helping make it the single biggest day from a sales perspective in Amazon’s history. “Prime Day was very successful for us,” said Brian T. Olsavsky, SVP and CFO, Amazon. “It was up 60% on an order product sales basis versus Prime Day 2015. And more importantly, it was a great day for customers. Globally they saved over double what they had saved in Prime Day 2015.” With its online business secure and growing by the day, Amazon is moving into brick-and-mortar retailing with the opening of physical book stores and grocery locations that will likely have a revolutionary effect on the in-store experience. The retailer is currently piloting its “Go” technology in downtown Seattle. The solution allows customers to walk in, fill their bags with quick service food items and select grocery SKUs, and walk out without ever stopping at the POS. The check-out-free solution leverages computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning to track shopper purchases and automatically charge their account when they exit the store. Amazon reportedly began working on the project in 2012, and is currently piloting the technology in a 1,800 square-foot test store open only to employees. The store is expected to be open to the public at some point in 2017. The original digital disruptor refuses to stand pat, continuously upping its capabilities and increasing shopper expectations and remains a driving force for change across retail.

Sephora –The Customer Experience Powerhouse Once upon a time, beauty shoppers had to choose between buying makeup at a drugstore or letting a specialist in a department sell to them. Specialty beauty retailer Sephora discovered a middle ground where shoppers could experience the products themselves. In doing so they developed an in-store experience that shoppers were craving. Today, the company continues to expand on this by utilizing cutting-edge technology to solidify itself as a retail leader in showrooming and webrooming. Sephora delivered double-digit revenue growth as well as market share gains across all regions in Q3 2016. It operates approximately 2,300 stores in 33 countries worldwide, with an expanding base of over 430 stores across the Americas. Sephora’s store-with-a-store shops at JCPenney continue to rise in popularity with 61 new shops opening last year, bringing the total to 577 overall. JCPenney reports that performance in both the existing and new shops remains strong and plans to add an additional 70 new locations in 2017. Sephora’s ability to merge technology into the user experience has redefined the beauty segment for shoppers. Its groundbreaking work pioneering chatbot solutions started with a bot that shares makeup recommendations, videos and tutorials. Next, it launched a Facebook Messenger bot called Sephora Virtual Artist that allows users to upload a selfie and try on different lip colors, which has received more than four million visits. Color Match for Sephora Virtual Artist can scan any photo and instantly provide the closest lipstick color match from Sephora’s entire assortment. “We know our clients wish they could try on every lipstick in our store,” Bridget Dolan, VP of Sephora’s Innovation Lab said. “Now they can — instantly and effortlessly. Our focus is always to launch technology that provides a true benefit to our clients. We want to make buying lipstick more fun than ever, and maybe a little addictive.” The retailer also has an appointment booking bot, Sephora Reservation Assistant, for reserving makeovers at stores across the U.S. The conversational interface allows clients to tell the bot which store location and service they want and then instantly receive the closest dates and times. The bot uses natural language processing to understand what the customer types in free-form text, like the name of a…