Kohl's New Marketing Approach: More Value, More Content

While the pandemic taught brutal lessons to most retailers, Kohl’s chief marketing officer says the resulting changes have sharpened the retailer’s focus, leading to a redefined corporate mission and increased sales. Dealing with COVID-19 also deepened Kohl’s ongoing partnerships with companies like Amazon and Sephora -- as well as with shoppers themselves.

“COVID-19 created connections,” CMO Greg Revelle told attendees at the 2021 Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference. “We want to preserve that intimacy going forward.”

Many of the changes had already been underway. For instance, the retailer had long been targeting casual apparel and activewear as a growth category. But as 2020 rolled on and people replaced work clothes with yoga gear, its merchandising strategies took on new urgency.



That’s shown in the company's most recent quarterly results, with the category posting a sales increase of 31% -- and a gain of 20% compared to its pre-COVID performance.

The retailer is also using personalization more than ever, helping it to gain omnichannel relevance. That requires an extensive customer database and a robust content library, which is where Revelle thinks Kohl’s excels.

“Content is key, and we’ve got more than 130,000 photos and videos that make what we do engaging and relevant,” he said.

Kohl’s brand partnerships are also taking on new importance. Despite the challenges of constructing hundreds of Sephora shops-within-shops, given COVID restrictions and supply-chain struggles, the retailer's new partnership with Sephora is off to a strong start.

Revelle describes that partnership, which developed as Sephora’s long-standing relationship with JC Penney unraveled, as a boost for both parties. “Sephora needed its stores to be closer to where people live,” he says. “And 80% of the U.S. lives within 15 miles of a Kohl’s.”

The Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based company began opening its Sephora locations in August.

The Amazon partnership, similarly, continues to work for everyone. It helps Amazon with returns, benefits Kohl’s by bringing new shoppers into its stores -- and makes life easier for consumers, who can return items without worrying about labels and packing materials.

While attracting new customers is always a goal, Revelle said that perhaps some of the biggest learnings of the last year have centered on Kohl’s loyalists. The company revamped its industry-leading loyalty program, leaning even deeper into providing value.

Revelle said many retailers continue to create loyalty offers with “breakage” in mind, meaning they offer perks they hope customers won’t use because they are costly. “We don’t care about breakage. We focus on usage,” he added. “Customers won’t stop demanding value.”

Members of its loyalty program take their Kohl’s Cash seriously, spending twice as much as other customers.

“Loyalty is never done,” said Revelle. “And it’s all part of building trust and purpose.”

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