What's Working in Retail This Year

It's painfully easy to think of retailers who aren't doing well right now. Handy trackers even help us keep track of bankruptcies and store closures. But there also are bright spots I love watching. Here are some companies doing well right now and why I'm excited about them:

Home Depot is segmenting its contractor customers (a particularly heavy mobile user) from its B2C business even though the latter customer still visits stores an impressive 4-6x/year; the needs are just different. And overall, the chain is driving more sales of its more expensive items. Part of this comes from co-creating and selling exclusive products.

It may be back to basics, but Ulta attributed part of its 71% quarter-over-quarter digital sales growth to new traffic-driving tactics across paid search, display advertising, and paid social. Also, e-commerce has become less of a drag on operating margin thanks to supply chain and labor cost improvements.

In stores (of which 100 net new ones will open), Ulta reiterated its plans to open 700 combined "prestige brand boutiques" for popular makeup nameplates. At stores, customers also can visit a professional skin therapist for “face mapping,” and get their eyebrows tweezed, trimmed and tinted — among other professional services. Finally, loyalty program membership increased 26%.

Walmart is one of the only companies - actually the only one that comes to mind - that saw a massive increase in online sales, as well as growth in same-store sales and store traffic. Changes in shipping strategy and a discount for shoppers who pick up their online orders helped on all fronts. Furthermore, Walmart.com growth was largely organic.

When I first read about Best Buy revamping its “mobile department”, I thought it was yet another reorganization of people, something we continue to see in round after round of retail layoffs. But the mobile department they’re referencing is the one in the stores and they’re making it more prominent and a better platform for serving customers in more transparent ways than the mobile industry is known for.

On the bottom line, Best Buy is saving money by fulfilling e-commerce orders from all stores, among other supply chain improvements. Stores’ ability to fill online orders is a big traffic driver given one-third of online orders are picked up. Best Buy isn’t dramatically reducing its store count either

Theme across all of the examples above? These retailers investing in their stores and seeing the payoff..