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Kohl’s accelerating omnichannel agenda


Buy online, pick up in store capabilities are being rolled out to all of Kohl’s nearly 1,200 stores this spring after a successful 100 store pilot program during the holidays.

And that just the beginning of the digital initiative the company has planned.

The addition of pick up in store to Kohl’s omnichannel offering puts the retailer on equal footing with others in the industry who have recognized in store pick up has quickly become a basic expectation shoppers have of retailers who operate physical stores.

In contrast to other retailers, Kohl’s implemented the more operationally complex function of ship from store before it began its pick up in stores pilot program last fall. Pick up in store was tested at 100 stores in Chicago, Milwaukee, San Diego and central Pennsylvania last Christmas.

“We are focused on building out the right platform so we can create compelling and engaging experiences,” said Ratnakar Lavu, Kohl’s executive vice president of digital innovation and information technology.

For example, Lavu concedes Kohl’s had a bad registry system that was manual, slow and hindered associates' efforts to assist digitally savvy customers. Now the company has created an app and provides customers with a mobile device to scan items they desire, which are updated in the registry in real time.

“We know the associates in the store need to be empowered with a lot more information. We are thinking about the moment when they interact with the customer,” Lavu said. When Lavu talks digital his comments are peppered with the word, “experience,” because technology and mobile are enabling a new era of mass personalization.

“Creating hyper-local relevant experiences is very important. Because of mobile, customers will demand highly relevant information at this moment in this location,” Lavu said. One way to accomplish hyper local is through sensing technologies such as beacons, a technology Kohl’s is looking at. “We are testing beacons in 22 stores under different scenarios to understand shopper behavior. Customers will opt in to receive messages if you are truthful, transparent and tell them the value you will provide,” Lavu said. “We haven’t cracked the nut on beacons.”

Other personalization tactics are more basic. For example, Lavu said the retailer is moving toward personalized home pages as a means to treat shoppers differently and in a more special way.

“Today we show them a generic home page,” Lavu said. It’s all part of an omnichannel journey that Kohl’s has only just begun, according to Lavu, a e-commerce veteran who spent time at RedBox and Macy’s before joining Kohl’s three and a half years ago. “I don’t believe many retailers, including Kohl’s, have made a lot of progress when it comes to omnichannel, and the reason is the complexity,” Lavu said.

Executing personalization strategies and providing shoppers multiple fulfillment strategies are inherently challenging, but the looming opportunity for Kohl’s is to sell merchandise categories beyond its in store offering. The company enjoys strong brand awareness and a level of trust with shoppers that can be parlayed into categories shoppers think the company ought to sell. For example, baby strollers are sold online but not in store. “Customers are asking us to get into categories we haven’t been in before,” Lavu said.

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