2021 Retailers To Watch: Kohl’s

From new formats to game-changing omnichannel strategies, and with the coronavirus pandemic impacting all aspects of the industry, the world of retail continued to evolve in 2020 as a number of leading chains and e-commerce pure-plays launched a range of key initiatives in an effort to enhance differentiation from their competitors.

Housewares and home were a focal point for many of these omnichannel-oriented retailers, which worked with leading vendors to launch new assortments ranging from kitchenware to home furnishings.

HomeWorld’s fourth annual Retailers To Watch, in the November 16 issue, takes a look at eight retailers that have made moves to further strengthen their respective businesses heading into 2021 through a range of initiatives, from new omnichannel directions to new retail formats. Selected by the HomeWorld editorial staff, each retailer selected is taking aim at growing top-level sales in the coming year and placing housewares and home at the forefront of their respective growth strategies.


Kohl’s raced to national prominence on a clever proposition— take outlet-type bargains to the people, opening stores designed to compete with mid-tier and department store retailers in strip malls, closer to the homes of consumers it wanted to make customers.

Over the past few years, Kohl’s had to face the fact that the consumers most prone to shopping its stores were already doing so. To coax existing shoppers, Kohl’s created promotional programs that became increasingly confusing especially to new or potential shoppers. Customer acquisition costs increased. It has been trying technical fixes such as digital links and credit cards to simplify the shopping experience, but that asks the often-reluctant customer to put the work in to find the best price. Kohl’s has tried some real world initiatives to pull more shoppers to its stores, taking Amazon returns and testing co-retailing with Aldi. However, as a publicly traded company expected to post market share gains, the company is challenged.

What to Watch

Kohl’s pre-COVID fourth quarter adjusted net income was $308 million, or $1.99 per diluted share, versus $366 million, or $2.24 per diluted share, in the year-before period. For the fiscal year, adjusted net income was $769 million, or $4.86 per diluted share, versus $927 million, or $5.60 per diluted share, in the year before. Comp sales were flat while total revenue advanced 0.1% from the year-earlier fourth quarter while comps fell 1.3% for the full year versus fiscal 2019. Fourth quarter earnings beat a Wall Street estimate, but CEO Michelle Gass acknowledged that results for the fiscal year did not meet the company’s expectations.

Kohl’s needs a way forward. Partnerships such as it has tried with Amazon and Aldi could help, as could digital moves particularly if the company can effectively leverage its local store locations. Kohl’s also has relaunched and enhanced its loyalty program and added drive up to in-store order pickup. Amazon is the main wild card, as some observers have speculated that Kohl’s acceptance of returns for the online leader— and a competitor for Kohls.com— is something of an acquisition audition. Kohl’s present initiatives are addressing challenges and the evolution of the marketplace, but the question becomes: Will they drive more than incremental business improvements or must the company venture a more radical transformation such as a move private? —Mike Duff

2021 Retailers To Watch (click on name for profile)

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Bed Bath & Beyond