Looking back on the sales and consumer survey data for the nation's biggest retailers and restaurants, it's clear that some businesses had a lot better 2013 than others.
Here are a few of the major players that can brag of special awards, record-breaking sales, and products that generated terrific buzz in 2013:
Amazon. The world's largest e-retailer never seems to have a bad year, but 2013 stands out as exceptionally good—especially during the all-important holiday season. Just after Christmas, Amazon announced that the 2013 holiday period was a record breaker, including 36.8 million items ordered worldwide (426 items per second) on Cyber Monday alone. Amazon Prime, the $79-per-year program that offers free two-day shipping on most Amazon purchases—and that tends to result in sharp purchase spikes once shoppers subscribe—now boasts over 20 million members, up from around 7 million at the start of 2012.
Shoppers seem to be quite happy with Amazon as well. In a special holiday-season survey from Foresee, Amazon tied with L.L. Bean for the highest overall customer satisfaction scores. On the other hand, Consumer Reports put Amazon on its "Naughty" list after the e-retail giant raised its minimum purchase threshold for free standard shipping from $25 to $35 just before the start of the peak holiday shopping period.
Apple. The company's app store topped the $10 billion sales mark in 2013, including over $1 billion in sales in December alone. Apple gadgets were especially hot holiday gifts, especially among the young: According to one survey, 88% of kids ages 12 to 17 most wanted an electronic device for the holidays, and 69% of those were hoping specifically for an Apple product. And in the Foresee holiday poll, the Apple Store ranked second in terms of best customer satisfaction among all stores.
Best Buy. While there was an overall sales slump at the mall during the 2013 holidays, it's believed that Best Buy did better than most, thanks to aggressive sales tactics and strong demand for electronics, the retailer's bread and butter. "The company was aggressive from the start, matching prices and promotions with competitors like Wal-Mart and Amazon," noted the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Best Buy is also sure to benefit from the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles." Best Buy's stock performed extremely well too in 2013, up 239% for the year.
Costco. At the National Retail Federation's Big Show, held in New York City in mid-January, the Gold Medal Award—the convention's top honor, dubbed "the most coveted award in retail" by the NRF—goes to Jim Sinegal, the co-founder of Costco. “Jim was an obvious choice for NRF’s Gold Award, given his commitment to the industry and Costco, and dedication to creating such a well-respected culture throughout the organization he helped build,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “All of the award winners have successfully been able to cut through the clutter and make an outstanding name for themselves by continuing to innovate and effectively serve their customers in an ever-changing world.”
In a 2013 cover story, Businessweek called Costco the "cheapest, happiest company in the world" due to the combination of ever-rising sales and growth and excellent treatment of workers, who receive good benefits packages and are paid over $20 per hour, on average. In previous years, Costco has been rated as the best overall retailer in terms of customer satisfaction, and it ranked among the top 10 stores in a recent poll conducted by Foresee.
In-N-Out Burger. In the recently released Consumers' Choice Awards from Technomic, In-N-Out was named the top winner in the "pleasant, friendly service" category among quick-service restaurants. Earlier, the West Coast-based burger chain won the top overall consumer score among limited-service restaurant chains, in a survey conducted for Nation's Restaurant News. All said, In-N-Out Burger had a pretty darn good year. The Cheesecake Factory also scored highly in both of these consumer studies.
Publix. According to those surveyed in the Foresee poll, Publix Super Markets beat out the Apple Store to be named top retailer for in-store customer satisfaction.
Wendy's. Wendy's introduced the year's "it" burger, the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger, for a very successful limited run in 2013, and even after the company's stock price retreated in the fall, it was up nearly 100% compared to the year before.