Can Kohl’s Jump To Front Of The Line?

After being disrupted by Amazon for long enough, it seems Kohl’s hopes to get in on the disrupting.

The troubled department store chain also hopes to get the best of the troubled traditional department store market by cozying up to a chief instigator of such troubles.

Added Perk

First came word last month that Kohl’s would launch Amazon smart home departments front and center in 10 Chicago and Los Angeles area stores. That was followed a week later with news that 82 Kohl’s stores in metropolitan Chicago and Los Angeles would pack and ship Amazon returns for free… with the added perk of designated parking spots near store entrances for such patrons.

“This is a great example of how Kohl’s and Amazon are leveraging each other’s strengths: The power of Kohl’s store portfolio and omnichannel capabilities combined with the power of Amazon’s reach and loyal customer base,” said Richard Schepp, Kohl’s chief administrative officer.

Who could argue with that logic? And make no mistake: This is an apparent coup for Kohl’s.

But it’s too early to judge Kohl’s if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em play with Amazon, likely bound for chain-wide implementation if the test results are solid.

Driving Traffic

Will it be celebrated as a visionary solution to drive store traffic and amplify the Kohl’s brand in the battle among traditional department stores to woo digital shoppers and secure their operational futures?

Or will it be panned as a near-sighted maneuver to boost short-term business for Kohl’s without reinforcing the strategic foothold needed for a self-sustaining future?

Or is it an exit strategy?

Amazon gains plenty in the short and long terms. It gets additional Amazon brand facings and revenue from traditional retail space. It also gets its foot in the door of a potential acquisition of Kohl’s that would add another 1,100 or so conveniently located staging points in 49 states for Amazon’s zip code-by-zip code, rapid-fulfillment ambition.

Yes, Kohl’s stands to benefit from increasing store visits and added street cred among the digital generation it will need to compete successfully in a future for which many mainstream retailers are already late.

Short of Amazon buying Kohl’s, however, such an alliance with a chief disruptor does little to ensure long-term prosperity independent of Amazon. It lacks the original— albeit risky— merchandising, operational and technological foresight and execution required to distance a retail business from Amazon’s growing cloud cover.

Unless, of course, distancing from Amazon is not the objective.

Long Lines

Whatever the outcome, one can only imagine what online Amazon shoppers in Chicago and Los Angeles will be thinking if they end up waiting in long lines at their local Kohl’s stores to get returns processed.

At least they can’t beat the parking.