May 9, 2013, 2:22 PM

Exceeding the norm

Nearly 40% of all web-only merchants met or exceeded the Top 500 overall growth rate.

Lead Photo

As a group, web-only retailers remain the fastest-growing merchant type in the 2013 Top 500 Guide.

Of the 10 merchants that registered the fastest year-over-year growth in online sales in the 10th anniversary edition of the Top 500 Guide, seven are web-only e-retailers. They include Groupon Inc. (No. 65), which grew sales year over year nearly 2100% in 2012 to $454.7 million; (No. 202), up year over year 1023% to $100 million; (No. 150), up 653% in 2012 to $150 million; (No. 170), which grew 357% to $128 million; (No. 466), up 192% in 2012 to $22.5 million and zulily (No. 77), which grew 167% in 2012 to $399.8 million.

Among all Top 500 retailers, the web-only merchant category also had the most companies that met or exceeded the overall growth rate of theTop 500 companies, whose sales grew year over year 17.5% to $216.17 billion from $183.90 billion. A total of 71 web-only merchants—36.2%—met or exceeded the Top 500 overall growth rate in 2012, compared with 54 (34.4%) of retail chains, 22 (33.3%) of consumer brand manufacturers and 16 (19.8%­)of merchants that sell through catalogs amd call centers, as well as online.   

Other Top 500 merchants aren’t growing nearly as fast as Groupon or Inc., a flash-sale retailer whose sales jumped dramatically from $8.9 million in 2011 to $100 million last year. But some perennial Top 500 merchants that are growing at more modest rates believe they’re doing the right things to survive and grow as e-commerce companies. That includes Oriental Trading Co. Inc., No. 86 in the Top 500.

Oriental Trading’s future was in doubt just three years ago. In the span of just a few years the private equity company and banks that owned Oriental Trading put the company up for sale at least twice and in 2011 filed for bankruptcy to reorganize and shed nearly $420 million in debt.

Today Taylor says Oriental Trading is profitable—though he won’t reveal figures—and is happy with the relationship with its new owner, financier Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which purchased Oriental Trading for an undisclosed sum in November.

But even while it was for sale or reorganizing under bankruptcy protection, Oriental Trading continued looking for ways to innovate and grow its e-commerce channel, Taylor says. In 2012 web sales for Oriental Trading only grew 6.3% to $340 million from $320 million in 2011. But the company is busy diversifying its e-commerce channel by developing more private-label merchandise, which now accounts for about 50% of the company’s current inventory of about 40,000 products, and developing new product lines for specialty events such as proms and party merchandise, including men’s Hawaiian shirts, Taylor says.

Oriental Trading also continues to invest in its 750,000-square-foot Omaha, Neb., distribution center which has the capacity to store as many as 100 million individual SKUs and pick, pack and ship up to 77 million packages per year, Taylor says. “Ten years ago e-commerce was 25% of our business and now its 70%,” Taylor says. “We’ve changed the mindset around here of being a catalog company treating the web as a support channel to making e-commerce our growth engine now and going forward.”

To read previous Top 500 Insider stories, click here.

More on these and other metrics and analysis is contained in The 2013 Top 500 Guide.

The 2013 Top 500 Guide is available in three formats: print, digital and as part of the all-new and completely updated Information on how to order the brand-new 2013 Top 500 Guide is available here.

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