Shelly Banjo is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering industrial companies and conglomerates. She previously was a reporter at Quartz and the Wall Street Journal.

Rani Molla is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist using data visualizations to cover corporations and markets. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal.

Fast-shifting shopper preferences are reordering the retail industry.

The scurry to keep up with consumer tastes led to Walmart's recent $3.3 billion acquisition of e-commerce upstart and Macy's decision to shutter 12 percent of its physical store base.

Even more telling is a longer-term look at how retail's leadership has changed over the past 15 years, underscoring the importance of staying relevant: 


Take department stores Sears, J.C. Penney and Kohl's, or traditional grocers Supervalu and Safeway. All were among the 20 highest-grossing retailers in America by sales at one point in the past 15 years, only to see their dominance fade.

Macy's, which has seen its market capitalization drop by 43 percent in the past year, is still in the top 20. But the country's largest department store by sales has fallen in the ranks to 16th (from 9th in 1995). Meanwhile, Amazon, Apple and Kroger sales have surged. Last year, Amazon and Apple were the 8th and 12th biggest U.S. retailers, respectively. A decade ago, they weren't even on the list. 

Fifteen ago, consumers were still making regular shopping trips that kept traditional grocers and department stores thriving. But those shoppers gravitated first to supercenters and then online.

Lately, consumers have started to embrace smaller, fill-in trips at dollar and convenience stores.  In fact, Dollar Tree and Dollar General are poised to break into retail's top 20 for the first time ever this year, helped by massive store expansion and industry consolidation, according to an analysis by the research firm Kantar Retail. 

Gobbling Up Sales
E-commerce now makes up more than 14% of total U.S. retail sales, excluding cars and gas stations
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

And online shopping -- which now makes up 14 percent of total U.S. retail sales -- is still growing. Amazon, which joined the top 20 in 2010, is the fastest-growing retailer of the lot. Kantar estimates Amazon will notch 14 percent U.S. revenue growth in 2016. It expects the next-fastest-growing retailers, Kroger and Dollar General, to boost sales by 10 percent and 8 percent in 2016, respectively. 

There's one thing about the list that hasn't changed in two decades: Walmart remains the reigning U.S. retailer in terms of sales -- even after posting its first-ever annual revenue decline in 2015, due partly to international struggles and currency effects.

But as retail's timeline reminds us, staying at the top isn't always a sure thing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. According to the Census Bureau, which excludes car and gas station sales

To contact the authors of this story:
Shelly Banjo in New York at
Rani Molla in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mark Gongloff at