It occurred to me that amongst the Econsultancy blog team we certainly have our favourite companies as far as digital ambition and execution are concerned.

So I'm simply going to round up some companies that have done good things on this front and see if our readers get annoyed by any omissions or, indeed, inclusions.

So, here are 18 digital trailblazers. A lot of them are involved solely in ecommerce but not all of them.

N.B. I've deliberately excluded agencies and what I think of as tech companies, though that distinction is a little difficult to make in some areas.

AO.com

Graham Charlton, Econsultancy Editor, holds up AO.com as an example of ecommerce best practice.

Read his review of AO.com for detail on exactly what constitutes best practice at this white goods pureplay.

AO.com has also had success on social media, growing its Facebook following significantly, from 2,500 to 1m in the space of two years

ao.com search bar

Argos

Argos has to be included for a number of reasons.

Not only does its ecommerce site work very well indeed, but its click and collect service has been a bit of a pioneer in the industry and now accounts for 42% of online sales. Indeed, eBay now uses this service in a tie-up deal across 650 stores that brings in around half of Argos' referral traffic.

On top of this, Argos stores are being revamped, featuring tablets instead of catalogues and digital displays at the same time as trying to improve the quality of face-to-face service.

The retailer has also explored digital technologies such as augmented reality in its catalogues, whilst ensuring that important functionality, such as a slick mobile app, is prioritised. In a sign of a business that's confident online, Argos also finds room to create digital pilots or one-offs, such as a Christmas gift guide site from 2013.

ASOS

OK, another pureplay, but we're often delighted by little features and content that ASOS produces, not just the bigger picture of a well-oiled persuasive website.

Highlights include content, such as its #bestnightever campaign which garnered 5.6m positive acts of engagement across social media platforms. Indeed, ASOS's website redesign in 2013 put content at the heart of the homepage.

Social is fertile ground for ASOS with Pinterest, as an example, allowing the retailer to rack up 122,000 followers at time of writing.

On-site features such as a fit visualiser and creative product video are the types of functionality that still separate the men from the boys when it comes to ecommerce.

ASOS's 2013 redesign put content at the heart of the homepage

asos homepage 2013

Booking.com

Booking.com makes my list, again for persuasive ecommerce design as championed by Paul Rouke on the Econsultancy blog.

Check out his posts for many insights into how Booking.com achieves it.

booking.com

Burberry

We've all heard about Burberry's investment in digital, and what with Angela Ahrendts' departure to Apple, Burberry has obviously made waves.

Although I've found not all of the brand's web properties are beyond reproach (its personalised fragrance site didn't work on mobile, for example, see below), it's Burberry's ambition that is to be saluted.

A lot of this ambition is manifest both in store and in its support of new artists and live events. In store, high fashion is the perfect arena to experiment with technology and Burberry has done it in a way that hasn't felt superfluous.

From clientelling (asking a customer to log-in and identify their history with the retailer in order to tailor an in-store experience) to RFID tags in clothes allowing accurate stock check but also activation of 'video mirrors' in changing rooms.

It's doing well on social, too, as seen at 2014's London Fashion Week.

GDS

It's not a company as such and it's probably defined as a tech organisation, but even so I had to include UK's Government Digital Services for the groundbreaking work it's been doing in service design.

From its style guide to its agile methods of working, the team has rapidly redesigned many features acoss the Government's diverse remit. Whether you're paying council tax, renewing a passport or investigating the NHS, GDS is making it less of a headache.

The transparency and invitation for feedback in the work undertaken is refreshing and, more importantly, effective.

gov.uk

GE

On the Econsultancy blog team we used to notice GE pop up in the early days of Vine and Instagram video and this is surely a sign of a brand wanting to try new things in content and social.

Indeed, this is where GE excels. Its YouTube videos called GE Masterclasses are the finest examples of combining brand with education and humour (see below).

The content on GE's owned media is similarly fun and easy to interact with, eschewing white papers for bright articles, gifs and more. 

The Guardian

The Grauniad is the first company I think of for innovation and excellence in publishing. Partly this is because of its development team, the silky app, the way the website puts out new features in beta such as responsive content and the mastery with which the design team handle graphics and interactive features.

But it's also the way The Guardian is pragmatic and is killing sacred cows when it sees fit. With its own native advertising unit set up to unite audiences and brands, The Guardian is ensuring revenue streams are taken advantage of.

When it comes to content, the paper always goes for the story but at the same time weighs up SEO benefit and international audiences. The paper's success with the Snowden unveiling, Scottish independence election coverage and many more have allowed it to built big traffic figures from the US in particular.

guardian prism stories

IKEA

A Qubit UX study showed IKEA to be second top out of a selection of homeware retailers when it came to online experience.

However, the retailer came top for 'choosing' and 'buying', two pretty important categories. The website's search functionality and product pages are both very good.

Elsewhere, buying furniture is one of the few areas where augmented reality has a cast iron use case and IKEA uses it to allow customers to picture items in their homes.

IKEA has been innovating on Facebook, too, where it has enjoyed many successful campaigns. One of its early efforts in 2009, pre Facebook competition rules, is legendary for its gamification of the platform, allowing users the chance to win items in a showroom if they tagged themselves on the related item in a photograph (see below).

Check out the brand's latest apeing of digital technology where it points out that perhaps there's a place for browsing through sheafs of paper.

John Lewis

John Lewis is consistently ranked highly for customer satisfaction, in recent years losing out only to Amazon within retail.

The company's long line of massively anticipated Christmas TV ads have debuted on YouTube in recent years and generated enormous social buzz, contributing to much multichannel activity. Christmas 2013 saw online sales up 22.6% with a massive 75% of these on mobile or tablet devices.

The retailer also has a healthy attitude to attributing online sales. In the words of Sean O'Connor:

..shops and online sales are all part of our total catchment sales. This enables the shop team to see how they in their shops contribute to the overall catchment result.

It has helped us break down any barriers for Partners. For us it is not whether a customer shops online or within a shop, it is all about customers shopping with John Lewis.

UX has always been done well at John Lewis online. Here's a piece from David Moth looking at what the brand was doing well in 2012. A lot of the features and salient points still seem fresh in 2014.

john lewis mobile

LEGO

LEGO is a universally loved brand and it makes it on to my list because of its use of social media to create communities around the product.

Obviously, The LEGO Movie did nothing to harm awareness of the toy, but the breadth of ideas for competitions and community involvement on social media ensures the big LEGO fans are kept engaged.

The fact that LEGO Ideas allows Joe Public to get their LEGO idea actually produced (and to share in the profit) is about as far as customer experience can be taken in my opinion. Check out our interview with LEGO's head of social strategy.

Manchester City

This is a case of digital chiaroscuro. As good as City is (and as much money as it is spending on digital), its rivals are often abject.

That's starting to change slowly and it shouldn't detract from the great things Manchester City have been doing.

There's a great app for mobile and optimised for tablet (below). The club excels on a range of social media networks, notably getting traction through Google Plus when other clubs hadn't yet touched the platform. It's also doing well with email.

Here's a Q&A with two of City's digital marketing team.

city ipad app

Schuh

Schuh have long been a favourite of ours at Econsultancy. By no means the biggest shoe retailer, Schuh manages all of its development out of its head office in Livingston, Scotland.

With a modestly sized team it hits a lot of ecommerce and in-store best practice nails right on the head.

The retailer has a mobile first strategy. It's using in-store tech sensibly to improve operations and customer satisfaction. And the love it receives from its customers is commensurate, often playing out over social media.

Starbucks

An easy and obvious choice? Maybe.

Still, it's amazing to think that payment by the Starbucks app has now been happening for five years. In the first two years they took 26m transactions via this method alone.

Geofencing and ordering on the go is surely not far behind.

We've also praised the coffee shop for its communications, including email and social. The fact that Starbucks adopted Wi-Fi in store relatively early means it must now have lots of data on its customers, at least in those places where one has to log in to use the service.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen stands out for its usable website (in contrast to many others in automotive), bold content marketing and success with video that does well on TV and online.

vw website

Walmart

OK, Walmart is another massive company. Yet it isn't resting on its laurels. Another trialler of geofencing, Walmart is also using push notifications.

It does what retailers of this size would consider the basics right, too, like mobile checkout and dynamic pricing online.

All this is partly down to a company culture that has led to the creation of a lab to enable innovation.

walmart app

Zappos

Zappos is an oft-used case study for great customer service and rightly so.

Recognition for staff and service for customers make this a rare company, one that still fits the age of mission statements and empowered communities.

Read Graham Charlton's article on how the company does it.

The retailer has also long championed free shipping and returns and understands well the psyche of the customer when shopping online for shoes and clothing.

 

Three Squirrels

I thought it worthwhile including a Chinese retailer. Three Squirrels is pretty much a cartoon network monetised by selling nuts. Well, it's a nut retailer that has created brand mascots and a whole visual identity around the brand that's symptomatic of the Chinese market.

The videos are popular on Youku and nut buyers are referred to as owners, rather than customers.

three squirrels

LINGsCARS

A last nod goes to LINGsCARS. Decide for yourself (click through below), but read Paul Rouke's meditation on the website.

lingscars

Ben Davis

Published 22 October, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)

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Jim Hunter

Nice list but shame it's so retail focused. Who's leading in B2B?

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Jim

That's a fair point and one for another round-up I think. GE are in there and I thought about including Basecamp.

Would be good to list some media companies, too, ones that have transformed.

about 3 years ago

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Liz Madeley

I too think of "The Grauniad" when I think of online innovation ;)

about 3 years ago

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Emma

A fantastic article, I'll be implementing this research into my website! Thank You!

about 3 years ago

Peter Fraher

Peter Fraher, CEO at PeterFraher Digital Marketing Strategy Consulting Company

Great list. Walmart, Lego and Starbucks have awesome digital strategies.

almost 2 years ago

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