November 30, 2012, 12:00 AM

Editor's Letter: Behind the scenes of the Hot 100

Editor's Letter: Behind the scenes of the Hot 100.

Throughout the year the editors of Internet Retailer frequently get inquiries from e-retailers and their public relations firms asking what it takes to make the cut for the Hot 100. The short answer is that we select e-commerce sites that have broken new ground in some way other e-retailers can learn from.

That's purely a qualitative judgment, of course, and different from the approach Internet Retailer takes in our research guides, such as the Top 500 Guide and the Top 300 Latin America. Those research products rely on hard facts—they rank retailers in a given part of the world by their online sales. Facts are our business, but once a year we think it's important to offer our informed judgments on the online retailers that are leading in innovation, even if not yet in sales.

To provide that analysis, the 16-person team of editors and research analysts behind the Hot 100 selections collectively look at thousands of e-commerce sites from around the globe each year. We run searches, zoom in on photos, watch product videos, check out what they're doing on Facebook and with mobile commerce, and more. We keep logs about the sites that stand out to us in some way, and when August rolls around, we start putting those logs to good use.

We each nominate about 20 e-commerce sites that we think are noteworthy, and we also reach out to industry experts for their recommendations. Sites that have also been submitted to us directly for consideration go on the list too. We break into three teams and book the office conference room pretty much full-time.

Then the debates begin.

We call up each site on the list and the editor who nominated it makes a pitch for why it should be included in the Hot 100. We test the site features that the editor points to and call up competing sites in that product category to see if they have comparable features. Few sites get easy agreement, but eventually we vote a site up or down, and it remains on the list or gets deleted.

The selection process this year was a bit different than in the past because for the first time we considered e-commerce sites outside United States—we are now tagging the Hot 100 as the "world's best retail web sites."

During the last two years Internet Retailer's research team has produced two research guides on Europe, one on Latin America and will soon publish one on the fast-growing Asia-Pacific market. As we became more familiar with online retailers worldwide we became convinced we needed to think bigger when it came to the Hot 100 selection process. Today we regularly see U.S.-based retailers moving to compete in international markets through e-commerce, while foreign retailers are making moves into the United States. Eight foreign retailers made the cut for the Hot 100 this year; we expect to feature many more in future editions.

If you have e-retail sites you'd like to see in the Hot 100 next year, e-mail me at and include a few sentences about why you think these are stand-out sites. In the meantime, we hope you find the sites featured in this year's Hot 100 useful in thinking about how you can take your own e-commerce sites to the next level.

Allison Enright,

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