Monday, January 01, 2007

You be the marketer: Kohl's

Let's play the what-if game for a minute. Let's say you are Kohl's CMO, and you're doing some Googling for Kohl's, and you come across this post from Paul at Hee-Haw Marketing. In the post, Paul details how he's not an avid Kohl's customer, then shows several pictures from his local Kohl's, which all show the store, in literal shambles. Clothes everywhere, on the floor, on the racks, in heaps, in piles, in wads. In short, a total disaster.

Paul adds this:
I get it, it's after Christmas, things have been busy, and your store has probably been thrashed by rabid shoppers over the past few days. But, all you've told me is that you don't give a shit. Not about your merchandise, your store or your customers. It is Kohl's, so my expectations are already low, but this is ridiculous...

If you were Kohl's CMO and you came across this post, what would you do? And more specifically, how would you address this store's problems so that you can foster a long-term change in the store? And would you reach out to Paul for advice/help?

I ask because there are posts like this all over the net right now, each complete with visual evidence of stores that apparently, don't give a shit about themselves, or their customers. And there are also CMOs that will have to decide how to address these posts.

How would you? I have some ideas, but I'd like to hear your thoughts first.

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Chris Brown said...

Great post. I too blogged that Kohl's was a mess just 7 days prior to Paul at HeeHaw Marketing. The problem isn't just in Dallas.

What should the CMO do? The short answer: turn a negative into a positive. However, my answer isn't a quick 6 word I wrote a post about it. (A long post.)

Thanks for posing the question.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting about this, Mack!

And, I'm not sure what they can do. Any first steps would be largely superficial, I would think. Considering Chris Brown's post, it seems that Kohl's troubles are probably systemic, and not something fixed with a bandaid.

I guess, if I were CMO, I would at least send an email (all three of ours are easy to find), and at least offer some sort of apology, and express an intent to fix the situation. I would also promise an open line of communication to ensure that the problem actually does get fixed.

With that said, I'm not holding out much hope that Kohl's will have much interest in engaging with us. But, you never know, I've been surprised before...

Anonymous said...


I posted several thoughts at Paul's house, here they are revised and extended. Based on my four years in retail, I believe:

1. The store is the experience. Anything less than a spotless appearance is unacceptable and avoidable.
2. Store managers must be responsible and held accountable for store appearance and customer service. This store manager should be fired or retrained.
3. Store training must be ongoing, at least monthly, and all employees must be held responsible and accountable for the cleanliness of their departments.
4. The Retail VP or Retail President should be sent to this store for retraining and then be placed on probation. The buck stops with this person.
5. All corporate communications should include the importance of the store experience and the impact it has on brand, marketing and sales.

Tim Jackson said...

Sadly, I'd be willing to bet half my ever-growing ass that the Kohl's CMO will never see this and that 99.9% of the CMO's out there never see this kind of thing. Very, very few seem to even know what Google is for that matter... joking of course, sort of.

Citizen Marketers should be a must-read for every CMO in the world... then they'd be following what happens in the blogosphere a bit more.

Anonymous said...

I'd think about offering my underpaid employees a wage that would indeed be a living wage, some benefits including some kind of medical and see if making them feel like cared-for people made them feel like making customers feel welcome. Call me an idealist, but hey, what's brainstorming for if not throwing out ALL answers? Even the dreams.

Anonymous said...

I think Lewis Green's post is a great list of what should be done.

Your store should always look pristine. Unless of course you'd rather display an image of an un-organized wreck for a business.

The manager is ultimately responsible. The manager should have caught this mess and taken care of it himself to ensure it gets done, even if it means staying past a "designated" time. Upholding a brand should surmount potential punishment.

At this point I would venture to say an apology would be somewhat silly. Don't apologize with words, apologize with actions. Show your customers you're sorry by fixing up the entire store. Don't let it look that way again, and they will forget and be glad.

Some quirky ideas: Donate those clothes to charity. They're lying about anyways.

Create a new task where a manager has some sort of timer, that every 15 minutes (would vary based on traffic) he checks out the various sections to make sure things are clean and in order.

To show you’re sorry, after cleaning up the mess, ask customers if there is a particular part of the story they feel is especially unkempt, or could use a kind of upkeep or redesign. Then listen and act.

Good question, especially this time of year. I've seen quite a few stores that have been in that kind of disarray and I found it quiet appalling.

Anonymous said...


Great question and I don't disagree with any of the earlier comments. But...I believe there's a missing first step.

What the CMO needs to recognize as he reads these posts is that the Kohl's employees have no pride in their store. I would suggest that comes from not understanding and believing in their organization's brand promise. If it has one.

I highly doubt the corporate office would describe the brand as "seconds and poorly constructed knock offs that we discount to lower income people who don't know the difference anyway." But, boy that's what the photos suggest the employees think of the merchandise, their customers and their store.

So first step, in my opinion, is figure out what niche Kohl's serves and find an authentic dignity in that. Teach those lessons repeatedly to the employees and let them absorb and embrace their purpose for existing. From that comes the pride that wouldn't allow a store to look like that.


Anonymous said...

I think you guys all make great points however none of you work at Kohl's or are even familiar with how Kohl's functions as a corporation. I work at Kohl's and have been employed there for 2 years and will soon be going into the Manager in Training Program. And I'm thrilled I came across these posts because I would like to offer something about working in this sort of environment.

Kohl's is an incredibly successful retail business and in lieu of recent economic distress has managed to come out on top. However, one of the things you need to understand about working on the store level is the amount of money and time allocated to each department. I can tell you it is not a lot and I can tell you that I do not foresee an increase in time or money allotted to the departments. Also when it's busy don't expect to see employees in their departments because alas they will be at the registers. For the most part the employees know how to do their job let's be real it is not rocket science to fold or hang a t-shirt. It is however, demeaning to go into a fitting room to find piles and piles of shirts, pants, shoes and jewelry and be told by a customer it is my job to clean up the mess. First of all there are signs that clearly say you should only bring in five items at a time. If there are five people using the fitting rooms each with five items that they leave in there that's 25 items for an associate to hang/fold. Now imagine what happens when those five customers each bring in 10 or more items. Also let's not even think about the times the clothes have been covered in piss, poo, or even semen.

So as you can see the problem is largely on the part of funding and let's be realistic you are not going to receive great pay working as a part-time associate, it just does not happen. Also Kohl's does provide a pretty impressive benefit package for their part-time associates. And the part about staying late is interesting because whenever you close at the store you're scheduled a half-hour past closing time to do any last minute straightening up. Now there are some occasions where you need to stay later due either to a visit from a higher-up or more commonly Christmas time. Now if you're a full-time employee on a close you're coming in for an 8 hour shift. If you close during Christmas time we're usually open ti 11 or midnight. So you're expected to a half-hour past that. But I can't even begin to tell you how many times we've ended up staying til 2 or 3 am. Now that's a little ridiculous because how can you expect people to work that late, you can't. And I'm sorry but it's not realistic for a store the size of Kohl's and bringing in the amount of business that Kohl's does to look like American Eagle.

I feel though that you should know Hurricane Kohl's has definitely affect the company and they are looking for ways to improve the fitting rooms and in new stores they are taking a different approach to how things are done-however, I cannot guarantee that this will take place in old stores at least not right away. So people don't feel that the concerns are not being addressed because they are but it's important to see how things are on the other side of the fence.