Daily Insights

Top 10 Brands in Specialty Retail

By: Elisabeth Rosen | Oct 30, 2015

In the rapidly changing retail industry, robust retail presence no longer guarantees success. Retailers also need to incentivize shoppers through digital channels, investing in bridging the gap between e-commerce and physical commerce.

However, L2’s Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail shows that most retailers are still struggling to accomplish this. Only one brand in the study achieves Genius rank, and more brands rank Average than Gifted – illustrating the slow pace of progress.

Top 10 Specialty Retail brands

1. Sephora (LVMH)
Digital IQ: 141

An exception to the category’s despondency is Genius brand Sephora. The retailer captures top organic search visibility across category keywords such as “lipstick”— outpacing not only top beauty brands, but also media sites and Amazon.


Sephora’s comprehensive product pages implement find-in-store functionality, wishlists, customer reviews, video tutorials, and “Beauty Board” user-generated content. The brand was also among the earliest adopters of in-store notification and Apple Pay via its “Sephora to Go” app, testifying to its investments in mobile.

2. Victoria’s Secret (L Brands)
Digital IQ: 135

Victoria’s Secret’s main strength is its staggering reach on social platforms. On Instagram, the brand leads the Index with 18 million followers. Each post generates nearly 100,000 interactions, meaning that @VictoriasSecret currently accounts for three out of four of the top 1,000 most popular posts by Index brands. This domination continues on YouTube, where the brand channel has garnered nearly 50 million views, setting it far apart from the pack.

3. IKEA (IKEA Group)
Digital IQ: 129

On Facebook, IKEA dominates other Home brands, garnering 72% of the Home & Gift category’s 12.8 million interactions. The brand has also transformed the category when it comes to multichannel retail. Shoppers can view local stock status on product pages and schedule delivery windows from their cart, a level of inventory transparency generally lacking in the Home & Gift category. In addition to flat rate shipping and in-home setup, IKEA gives buyers the option to either select items themselves or have a store associate select
items and deliver them using a local courier service.

4. Old Navy (Gap Inc.)
Digital IQ: 127

Old Navy’s assertive cross-platform advertising strategy seems to be paying off. Campaigns featuring brand ambassador Julia Louis-Dreyfus generated more than 14 million views on YouTube; meanwhile, aggressive display advertising spans both desktop and mobile devices. The retailer leads the Index in paid media reach, with 6.7 million impressions per unit.American Eagle's app

5. American Eagle Outfitters
Digital IQ: 125

The brand rolled out a refreshed mobile app in December 2014, reflecting its new approach to retail. While decreasing its brick-and-mortar footprint, the retailer is steadily expanding omnichannel capabilities: the app’s exclusive “Reserve, Try & Buy” feature lets users view real-time in-store inventory and reserve items to physically try on. The app’s native mobile customer service chat accounts for one in three inbound chats, suggesting that it aligns well with the changing communication preferences of the brand’s target demographic.

6. Gap (Gap Inc.)
Digital IQ: 122

Despite struggling sales, Gap has been the category leader in web advertising. SEM efforts, SMS alerts, and email marketing have a strong local component, demonstrating a balance between e-commerce and in-store incentives.

6. H&M (H&M Hennes & Mauritz)
Digital IQ: 122

As one of only two Index brands featuring a native tablet site, H&M provides a best-in-class tablet experience. The site tablet.hm.com readily adapts to changes in device orientation, provides intuitive touch-to-zoom, and supports geolocation options missing from many desktop experiences.

6. Ulta (Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance Inc.)
Digital IQ: 122

Along with Sephora, Ulta outpaces competing Beauty & Skincare destinations in organic visibility. The brand returns first-page hits on 68% of applicable category terms tested, a rare exception as retailers across the Index consistently fail to secure top visibility across both organic and paid results.

Ulta also has key functionality missing from other sites, like a store locator that filters by available salon services and preferred brands. Its “Book an Appointment” feature provides seamless handoff from the brand site to brick-and-mortar facilities.

9. Tiffany & Co.
Digital IQ: 120

The jewelry retailer leaves most peers behind on category searches, such as the hunt for engagement rings. Tiffany.com secures first page hits for 44% of category search terms, placing third in the Watches & Jewelry category for organic search and fourth for paid search.


10. J. Crew (J. Crew Group, Inc.)
Digital IQ: 119

The brand achieves social growth through its #accessoryfix campaign, which asks Instagram users to document how they wear J. Crew accessories. “Favorite photos” are showcased in an on-site gallery, complementing the existing layout of guided selling tools. J. Crew has also shored up category search performance, especially against close competitors such as Gap.

10. Zales (Signet Jewelers)
Digital IQ: 119

The jewelry brand has made significant investments in mobile advertising, demonstrating a refusal to be left behind on mobile. Its innovative “Shop with Friends” feature facilitates a shared browsing experience.

For more, download a copy of L2’s Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail. [reportdownloadlinks report_post_id=”134669″]