Kohl's Cozies Up To Amazon

Like most retailers, Kohl’s has been eating Amazon’s dust for years now, and it’s come up with a novel if-you-can’t-beat-’em twist: It’s adding “free, convenient” returns for Amazon customers in 82 of its stores.

Of course, Amazon returns are already convenient, and usually free, too. But Kohl’s is hoping customers would rather swing by one of its locations than the local UPS store, and that they might be inclined to shop a little when they do so. Customers using the Amazon return service will also be offered designated parking, to boost convenience. 

The announcement from the Menomonee Falls, Wisc.-based retailer follows its news earlier this month that it was partnering with Amazon to create an Amazon smart home experience in 10 stores in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas. (These stores, it says, will also have the new return section build right into the Amazon section, near the front of the store.)



 “We are thrilled to launch this unprecedented and innovative concept, allowing customers to bring in their unpackaged Amazon returns to Kohl’s and we will pack them, ship them, and return them to Amazon for free,” says Richard Schepp, its chief administrative officer, in its release. “This is a great example of how Kohl’s and Amazon are leveraging each other's strengths.”

While no one is questioning Amazon’s strengths, Kohl’s (and most of its brick-and-mortar competitors) are certainly in dispute: Last month, it announced a 1% decline in sales for the second quarter, with same-store sales results slipping 0.4%.

But some industry experts say joining forces with Amazon is likely to help build relevance with shoppers. “Department stores face many challenges, but at the core is waning traffic trends,” with Kohl’s traffic declining 5.5% last year, writes Paul Trussell, who follows retail for Deutsche Bank. Calling the Amazon home experience an “important step toward increased relevancy... . We envision Amazon eventually expanding its offering to include other products and services that drives traffic uniquely to a Kohl’s store.”

Still, he says it is too early to tell what kind of impact the partnership might have.

Retailers everywhere are looking for online-to-offline solutions to help it fend off the Amazon onslaught. Like Kohl’s, Best Buy is now selling Amazon electronic devices. Nordstrom, for example, recently announced a new concept—Nordstrom Local. The tiny stores, just 3,000 square feet, will have stylists and dressing rooms, but no merchandise in stock. Customers order what interests them from mall-based stores and the website.

And others are just begging for the mercy of acquisition: Fans of Benny’s, a regional discount chain in New England that just announced it was closing, recently started a petition on, asking Amazon to buy it. So far, it has collected 4,700 signatures.

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