Who are the UK’s top 32 online retail leaders?

It is no secret that the retail sector has been devastated by the impact of COVID-19. However, through the well-publicised struggles of the high street, there have been many examples of the importance, rise and success of eCommerce and online retail firms.

As a result, Business Leader have highlighted 32 businesses – and their leaders – who are the driving forces behind this area of the sector. Whether they are established leaders, disruptors and innovators, or have exploded in popularity in recent months – these are the companies to look out for.

This list is in no particular order.

Alan Barratt


Online sales for sports nutrition firm Grenade are up 294%, as the company experiences its best year of eCommerce sales to date – having already surpassed 2019 sales. Founded in 2009, the business is a leader within the global healthy snack market – valued at £25.4bn – and Grenade has been experiencing double-digit year-on-year growth over the last three years. Already exporting to over 100 countries, Grenade is preparing expand into Australia, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Scandinavia.

John Roberts

AO World

Following months of growth due to the increased number of online shoppers, AO World announced plans to create 650 jobs as part of a new recruitment drive. The new employees will help the company manage the sustained increase in demand seen in recent months. The Bolton-based digital-only retailer was founded in 2000 and has grown to employ around 3,000 employees across the UK.

Dame Sharon White

John Lewis Partnership

In February this year, just a month before the lockdown, Dame White took over the role of Chair at the John Lewis Partnership – after a successful career at Ofcom and the government. She has taken on the tough task of guiding the struggling retail giant through the crisis, following an already tumultuous time of declining profits and senior departures. White has a plan to save the retailer through innovative plans.

Nick Preston & Mark Wasley


Food retailer musclefood recently appointed joint CEOs to take the business to the next stage of its growth. Former Commercial Director Nick Preston and ex-Sofology CFO and COO Mark Wasley have taken the helm at the company. At the height of lockdown in March, musclefood delivered over 135,000 orders, selling 125,000kg of premium chicken breasts with website visits up to 2.3 million. In April/May, they saw the volume of customers compared to the same time last year increase by 124%, with repeat customers up by 35%.

Dominic Paul

Domino’s UK

Domino’s Pizza has this month announced that it will be employing an additional 5,000 staff following the surge in online sales for takeaway meals during the coronavirus crisis. The chain saw a 5% jump in sales over the first half of its financial year as people looked online more than ever for food delivery.

Timo Boldt


Healthy food delivery firm Gousto announced in early August that, as a result in an explosion in sales during the lockdown period, they will be employing 1,000 new staff members to deal with the surge in demand during the first few months of the outbreak. Year-on-year online sales at Gousto have more than doubled over the last twelve months, with much of the recent growth attributed to changing eating habits of the public during the lockdown.

Jacqueline Gold CBE

Ann Summers

Regularly noted as one of the country’s most important retail leaders, Gold has been at the helm of the company since 1993. Having avoided the fate of its US rival, Victoria’s Secret, under the guidance of Gold, the firm looks set to recover and thrive as the world looks to move through COVID-19. Gold announced in September that the company would be putting more money into the company to guide through the coming months.

Anya Hindmarch CBE


Hindmarch is a fashion accessory designer who rose to prominence through her Eponymous retail brand. After leaving the company in 2011, she regained co-ownership last year – and has helped grow the brand into an international eCommerce and retail icon.

James Watt


Unicorn business and a leader within the craft beer industry, BrewDog has seen its revenues for the first half year of trading increase by 55% to £78m. The Scottish firm’s iconic Punk IPA drink is one of five top selling craft beers during the lockdown period. Since March, BrewDog has experienced UK retail sales growth of 83%.

Ben Francis


The UK’s newest unicorn business – after achieving the status in August – Gymshark has been one of the fastest rising eCommerce firms for many years. However, the lockdown has seen the company expand to reach new heights. The sports fashion retailer announced in July this year that it had achieved annual revenues of £258m – up from £176m the previous year.

Dame Natalie Massenet


Co-chair of online luxury retailer Farfetch, Massenet has had a storied history within the eComerce fashion sector. She founded Net-a-porter from her Chelsea flat in 2000, and grew it into an international firm. She received her Damehood for services to the fashion industry and has been Chair of the British Fashion Council.

Guy Singh-Watson


Organic vegetable box delivery service Riverford, which also offers vegan and vegetarian recipe boxes, has seen exponential growth in its deliveries as the public looked for alternatives ways of receiving fresh vegetables. The firm actually had to halt orders as demand surged to a point where it put a ‘huge strain’ on the business – sending out more than 55,000 deliveries a week. The company has made plans for investment to help the company manage its incredible growth.

Laurent Guillemain


During the first three months of the lockdown, the world’s most popular meal-kit delivery service saw its quarterly revenues rise by 69% to more than £630m, when compared to the previous year in the same time period. To meet the demand in the UK, they announced plans to double its UK workforce by offering 400 new jobs to pick and pack orders during its busiest ever period.

Nick Beighton


Fashion eCommerce giant ASOS saw its sales rise during the COVID-19 lockdown to unprecedented levels. The firm recorded a 10% increase in group revenue to £1bn for the four months to June 30. Overall sales in the UK during the same time-period hit £329.2m. At the start of the lockdown ASOS saw sales drop by a fifth, however, sales picked up in April, May and June, driven by a rapid growth in the rise in the need for ‘casual clothes’.

Helena Helmersson

H&M Group

As the leader of the world’s second biggest fashion retailer, Helmersson has risen through the ranks at the firm to take over the top role in January this year. Helmersson is now leading the company’s transition away from bricks and mortar to online shopping. The firm have announced that it will be accelerating investment into its digital platforms to cope with increasing demand.

Melanie Smith


Online grocery retailer Ocado has reported a sizeable rise in revenue during the third quarter of the year, as the public made a dramatic shift to eCommerce during the COVID-19 enforced lockdown. Retail revenue rose 52% to £587.3m in the third quarter (which ended on August 30 2020).

The group also said the customer reaction to the switch over to Marks & Spencer (M&S) from Waitrose products on September 1 has been positive for sales numbers.

Maria Raga


Raga has been the CEO of the app-based fashion retailer since 2016. The firm focuses on ‘preloved’ and vintage styles that allows users to buy and sell items online. The marketplace has risen to global popularity over the years for being inclusive, diverse and less wasteful – and during the pandemic, fashion resellers have seen a sharp rise in popularity as people clear out their wardrobes of old and unwanted items.

Julia Straus

Sweaty Betty

The London-based women’s activewear firm promoted Strauss to the role of Chief Executive last year, having joined the firm from US beauty brand Tula in 2018. Strauss has been credited with the company’s digital and international growth. Due to the increased demand for running, yoga and sports apparel, the firm has seen a rise in popularity in recent months.

Simon Roberts

Sainsburys and Argos

Sainsbury’s reported double digit sales growth year-on-year in grocery for the 16 weeks to June 27, with group online sales (including Argos) more than doubling. Online grocery sales soared by 87% year-on-year, with orders fulfilled per week increasing from around 370,000 to more than 650,000. Nearly 50% of new online grocery customers during the period were new Sainsbury’s shoppers. Digital Argos sales also increased by 10.7%, with home delivery sales up by 78% and ‘click & collect’ up 53%.

Henry Birch

The Very Group

Liverpool-based online and app retailer Very.co.uk experienced a 65% increase in traffic during the pandemic – and as a result, annual group revenues exceeded £2bn for the first time. The number of new customers increased by 100% and their credit services increase by 80%. During lockdown, the business enabled all 800 contact centre colleagues and over 1,000 head office colleagues to work from home to cope with the increased demand.

Tony Laithwaite

Laithwaite’s Wine

During the lockdown, the public sought out new ways to receive their favourite alcoholic beverages. Family-run wine delivery business Laithwaite’s Wine has seen a 300% rise in new customers year-on-year in March and April. The Gloucester-based firm is now the UK’s top online destination for buying wine online.

John Foley


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been widely reported that people are turning their attention to improving their health, wellbeing and fitness – and one of the most successful companies within this industry over the last few months has been Peloton – a high tech fitness firm that utilises fitness equipment mixed with a monthly subscription for training purposes. The company saw a 66% increase in users and posted its best financial figures to date – and as a result, the company is now valued at more than £3bn.

James McMaster


Featured in last month’s ‘Fast Track’ feature in Business Leader Magazine, Huel have experienced exponential and unparalleled growth within the complete food market. At the height of the pandemic, the company announced a 43% increase in year-on-year revenues to £72m. The company now exports to over 100 countries with international sales accounting for 56% of total sales.

Ian Whittingham

Sigma Sports

Premium cycling and multisport eCommerce retailer Sigma Sports reported a staggering 677% increase in sales of entry-level bikes by UK customers, when compared to the previous year. Mid-level bikes rose by 130%. Year-on-year growth for their range of trainers was up 997%. As the public made a shift to healthier living, the London-based firm has seen a mass surge in interest in many of their goods.

John Lyttle


The first financial quarter of 2020, the online fashion retailer Boohoo reported stronger than expected growth during the coronavirus pandemic – a stark comparison to many of its rivals. The company reported a 45% leap in sales to £368m during the three months to May 31. Boohoo are so confident in their ability to weather the COVID-19 storm, they are forecasting revenue growth of approximately 25% for the current financial year to February 2021.

Matthew Moulding

The Hut Group

Following months of growth in their eCommerce platform, the health, wellbeing, beauty and nutrition retailer made the largest market debut on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) for five years. The company is now valued at more than £5.4bn. The company also donated £10m in aid to local key and emergency workers across the Greater Manchester region to help deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Angus Thirlwell

Hotel Chocolat

The Royston-based luxury chocolatier will be creating 200 new jobs in its chocolate-making factory and distribution centre following a surge in online sales during the coronavirus crisis.

Digital sales soared by more than 200% in year-on-year growth in the quarter to June 30, as shoppers bought Easter and Mother’s Day gifts online. Sales subscriptions in the same time period also grew by 47%.

Alannah Weston & Anne Pitcher


Weston (Chairman) and Pitcher (Group Managing Director) are trying to steer the fashion retail giant away from the many struggles felt by the majority of firms within the sector. They have led the recent trend of offering clothing rental – which is set to see a rise in popularity over the next few years.

Niraj Shah


Global online homeware retailer Wayfair generated $13bn in net revenue for the twelve months ended September 30 2020 . Total net revenue (sales generated primarily through Wayfair’s sites) increased $1.5bn to $3.8bn, up 66.5% YoY. In Direct Retail business, active customers reached 28.8 million as of September 30, 2020, an increase of 51% YoY.

Fraser Doherty & James Brown


Edinburgh-based craft-beer subscription company Beer52 doubled its customer base to more than 200,000 people and increased its staff numbers from 31 to 71 during the height of the coronavirus lockdown.

The firm delivers a selection of beers from a specific country or region each month alongside a snack and its own magazine.

Graham Stapleton


The UK’s largest cycling retailer posted financial results for the 13 weeks to July 3, showing a 57.1% like-for-like growth in cycling sales. The coronavirus pandemic was a key driver of the growth, with the British public turning to two wheels for exercise and transport to work, in order to avoid public transport. Growth in sales of bicycles increased a further 71% in August.

Ken Murphy


Supermarket giant Tesco saw its sales rise by 8% to £13.4bn in the three months leading up to the end of May, and had to expand its online groceries business to meet the growing demand during the lockdown period by doubling its online capacity over a five-week period. Tesco experienced a 48.5% jump in online sales for the period, with online sales soaring by more than 90% in May alone. Former CEO Dave Lewis was replaced by Ken Murphy at the end of September.