Why Kohl’s Is Surviving and Thriving During the Retailpocalypse

Its loyalty program has kept customers coming back, said CMO Greg Revelle

Revelle speaks at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference. ANA
Headshot of Diana Pearl

The retailpocalypse is upon us, with household names like Sears, Claire’s and The Bon-Ton filing for bankruptcy over the past year. But some stores, like Kohl’s, are managing to buck the trend.

In August, the Milwaukee-based chain posted its fourth straight quarter of year-over-year growth, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The company’s shares are up, too. Speaking with Adweek at this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, Kohl’s CMO Greg Revelle said the store’s efforts to build brand loyalty are a big part of that.

Kohl’s has three different types of loyalty programs—Kohl’s Charge, Kohl’s Cash and Yes2You Rewards. To alleviate confusion, the brand decided to consolidate them under one umbrella, Kohl’s Rewards, predominantly focusing on Kohl’s Cash, where, for every $50 spent at Kohl’s, you get $10 back in Kohl’s Cash. That program is currently piloting in 100 Kohl’s stores across the country.

“Loyalty program benefits should be unique to your category and your brand, and appeal to your customer’s key motivators,” Revelle said. For Kohl’s, a customer’s motivation was obvious—finding new ways to save while they spend.

Kohl’s has given $2 billion back to customers so far this year, and the financial commitment to its customers is working, Revelle said. It’s particularly so when it comes to building a loyal base of millennial parents.

“Millennial parents are really loyal,” said Revelle in his ANA presentation. “They care more about the brand than the price or convenience.”

And shopping at a brand that rewards them for doing so helps to drive that home.

“Because they can use Kohl’s cash, they don’t want to shop anywhere else,” he said.

Revelle told Adweek that focusing on not only what the customer wants, but what a retailer can offer that its competition might not be able to is a key differentiator.

“What is it that your customer really cares about and why would they be interested in buying from you versus buying from your competition?” he said. “What is it about your value proposition that you can improve to increase your appeal with your desired customer?”

Not figuring out what that is, Revelle said, is what continues to hurt retailers across America. “The barriers to entry in so many industries, retail included, have continued to come down,” he said. “Unless you can figure out how to make your company unique, you put yourself at risk of becoming irrelevant.”

An added bonus of the financial boom Kohl’s has seen over the past year? It’s given the brand the ability to boost its business as well as its marketing.

“We’ve just had that financial health to invest in a business,” Revelle said. “We’ve invested in marketing and invested in stores, tons of investments in our digital capabilities. The buy online and pick up in-store requires tens of millions of dollars to do that, and there just aren’t that many companies that can afford it.”

Revelle said large-scale retailers like Kohl’s are in a unique spot, being among the few entities that have access to huge amounts of consumer data. It’s this data that allows Kohl’s to better understand its customers and shape shoppers’ experiences through marketing, from when a person first sees an ad to when they check out in-store or online.

“It’s an ongoing effort to get more and more intelligent about what the customer is doing,” he said. “The investments we’ve made over the last five years are really paying off and allowing us not just to know what they’re doing but also to actually change the experience itself.”

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.