It was supposed to be a big year for Tim Cook and Apple (AAPL -3.00%). Investors hoped that 2015 would usher in an era of innovation, proving that though Steve Jobs was four years removed from running the company, the core strength of the company -- making revolutionary products that we didn't know we needed until we actually tried them -- was still intact.
In the end, however, the market's reaction to Apple's 2015 was noticeably tepid. Apple stock actually underperformed the market during the year.
As things stand now, the iPhone accounts for over 60% of the company's revenue. Though it may be unfair to hope for another equally ground-breaking product to be released, it's clear from the company's most recent release that the Apple Watch won't be joining the iPhone in the upper echelon any time soon.
But just because Apple stock stagnated during 2015 doesn't mean that there weren't other consumer-facing technology stocks that experienced incredible growth. While it'd be easy to point out the usual suspects -- Netflix and Amazon jumped 130% and 119% in 2015, respectively -- here are three lesser-known stocks that experienced similar growth.
China's online travel market wasn't supposed to have such a distinct winner in 2015. In fact, Ctrip (TCOM 0.48%) CEO James Liang warned investors two years ago that the ultra-competitive market for selling plane, train, bus, hotel, and vacation packages in China would be experiencing a race to the bottom that would affect profitability over the near-term.
That race to the bottom, it turns out, didn't really happen. Ctrip continued to capture impressive market share during 2015, with travel and accommodations bookings up over 150% and 50%, respectively. But it was consolidation within the industry, and the inherent admission by competitors that Ctrip was #1 in China, that really boosted the stock.
In early 2015, Ctrip took a stake in rival eLong. Shortly thereafter, Ctrip received further investment from its largest global compatriot: priceline.com. But the real coup came in October when the company swapped shares to gain a 45% stake in Qunar.
The takeaway message was clear: China's online travel industry was consolidating, and Ctrip was at the top of the pyramid. The stock rose 105% in kind.
Whoever said that stamps couldn't be big business forgot to tell Stamps.com (STMP). Admittedly, while this is technically a consumer-facing company, the bulk of the company's revenue comes from business customers.
In the old days, companies would buy a Pitney Bowes stamp machine that could weigh packages. But the easy point, click, and print option offered by Stamps.com is far more economical -- a lesson both businesses and investors seem to have learned in 2015.
The company's stock jumped more than 35% in one November trading day when it announced that EPS had grown 61% from the previous year, and management bumped annual EPS guidance from a midpoint of $3.30 to $3.80 -- representing potential year-over-year growth of 54%. Such success explains why the company's stock advanced 130% during 2015.
This isn't the way it's supposed to go. By now, everyone knows that challenging Amazon.com's dominance in e-commerce is a (small f) fool's errand. But in 2015, Wayfair (W -5.82%) proved that for those who are laser focused on what they do, and differentiated just enough from Amazon, there might be room for more players.
Wayfair focuses solely on home décor, a highly fragmented industry, especially when it comes to e-commerce. The company grew by leaps and bounds in 2015: while the company has yet to turn a profit (like Amazon, it's piling money into its infrastructure), total net revenue was up a very healthy 77% during the company's most recent quarter. More telling, Direct Retail revenue -- which is Wayfair's bread and butter business and accounts for 92% of revenue -- was up over 90% during the third quarter.
Wayfair's valuation -- trading at 59 times trailing free cash flow -- already has high expectations built in. Nevertheless, that was the case at the beginning of 2015, and it didn't stop the stock from advancing by 129% during 2015.