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Making Common Retail Feel ‘Like New’

[RETHINK Retail] — Step one: Get shoppers in stores. Step two: Keep them interested while they’re in the store. Step three: Assist them with buying something. Step four: Provide such great customer service that they’ll want to come back and do the same thing all over again.

It’s a fairly easy system that all retailers know. However, depending on the location, each retail store has quite a bit of competition trying to maximize the same four-part strategy.

There are more than 1 million retail stores in the United States alone, according to the National Retail Federation. Of the top 50 online retailers, almost all of them have brick-and-mortar stores. And for the few department stores who have managed to stay around for the long haul, location and presentation is everything. Kohl’s, for example, has more than 1,100 retail stores nationwide (most commonly found in the Midwest as of 2018). And Kohl’s has picked up steam (even if profits don’t always match) thanks to a partnership with Amazon.


If you can’t beat them…

Since the fall of 2017, Amazon customers can skip the trek to Amazon return centers and long lines at UPS, USPS or other delivery locations. Walk into a Kohl’s department store, drop off the unpackaged item(s) and leave — or not. Kohl’s is on a mission to make anyone who walks into their store locations want to hang around for a while.

Approximately 1,100 stores participate in the Amazon return program. Additionally, Kohl’s stores sell Amazon products such as the Echo line of voice-activated virtual assistants and Kindle readers. So they’re not just accepting Amazon returns; Kohl’s intends to sell the kinds of items an online audience would like already.

Even the naysayers must admit that Kohl’s partnership with Amazon is working out better than expected.

“I have to admit I was wrong about Amazon,” said Peter Fader, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, during a Retail Rundown discussion.

“I was very skeptical. It’s a different kind of audience and a different kind of experience. In some sense, Amazon was using Kohl’s in the same way that they’ve used Toys ‘R’ Us and Borders and other companies that they then eviscerated. It’s still early, but it has been much more successful for Kohl’s than I would have imagined.”

But working with Amazon is not all the department store chain is doing to try and pique casual shoppers’ curiosity. Here are a few other of their latest retail ideas:


  • Hire SmartWay trucking company for domestic deliveries, appealing to their eco-friendly consumers)
  • Initiate Scott Living for HDTV customers, who enjoy home renovation and transformation from the Property Brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott)
  • Assist online shoppers and Facebook users with finding cruelty-free, vegan-friendly cosmetics with the help of The Beauty Checkout
  • Keep trendy customers in the loop each quarter with the newest fashion brand and trends through Curated by Kohl’s
  • Curate full outfits so customers don’t have to mix-and-match and can buy mannequin or online ad styles all at once with The Outfit Bar
  • Appeal to dog- and cat-loving owners with help from a very well-known talk show host’s brand, the Ellen DeGeneres Pet Collection
  • Use their real estate space to house other stores such as Planet Fitness (the perfect opportunity to make fitness enthusiasts want to buy Kohl’s athletic attire)



… learn from them

For frequent shoppers, one item on a mannequin may catch their attention. They then spend several minutes trying to figure out where that shirt, pair of pants, tie or hat actually are. If the shopper is lucky, these items will be somewhere close to the mannequin. But that is not always the case, so then that one item becomes a scavenger hunt. If it takes too long, the shopper may give up and buy nothing.

With the Outfit Bar (and Curated by Kohl’s), the department store has pretty much made itself each customer’s personal shopper without even needing retail assistance. Often on retail shopping sites, people purchase one item and see suggested items in small sections right underneath the main product. They may click it. They may not.

But Kohl’s has put all of the selections of their outfits on one page in one scroll. There’s no need to try to search for the best guess: it’s right there. Online customers can see which sizes are available in all items, in available colors and even see different models wearing the same outfit. And if they like it all, just click “Add to Cart” straight down the page.


<em>The Outfit Bar | Photos courtesy of Kohls<em>


So why does The Outfit Bar matter? It’s not like mannequins or matching outfits are new. What’s different is that Kohl’s has learned the same thing Amazon knew long ago: For shoppers, it’s all about convenience. If they can make the shopping experience fun and easy to do, they’ll come back for more.

Shoppers who don’t want to read every single label to find out whether items are cruelty-free don’t have to worry; The Beauty Checkout has them covered. Shoppers who want to find a cool outfit without searching for hours on end for separate pieces can rely on The Outfit Bar. Shoppers who don’t really want to figure out what are the newest and trendiest brands can have the information handed to them with help from Curated by Kohl’s.

Some shoppers may still prefer the do-it-yourself route. They’d rather pick and choose what they like. But the bigger picture is that Kohl’s is looking at new ways to get more customers in the store, even if they just want to DIY all the way to the register.