Retail chain Kohl started a program to accept unwanted Amazon returns at all 1,150 of its stores in April, and it looks like it’s rolling the dice on it big time now that a limited test period has concluded. According to a report in the New York Times on Monday, Kohl’s is now describing the effort to lure Amazon customers unsatisfied with their purchases into its stores as the chain’s “single biggest initiative” the retailer is pursuing in all of 2019, in what could either be described as a cunning ploy to stave off Amazon encroachment or a big red flag about the future of retail.
The Amazon returns program is now in effect at all Kohl’s stores in the U.S. as of Monday—not coincidentally, exactly a week before Amazon’s Prime Day. Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass wrote in a statement that “The nationwide rollout of the Amazon Returns program is our single biggest initiative of the year. Our top strategic priority is driving traffic, and this transformational program does just that. It drives customers into our stores, and we are expecting millions to benefit from this service.”
As the Times noted, retailers in plain old meatspace have tried a variety of methods to compete with Amazon, including a chain of Nordstrom stores that serve primarily as online pickups and returns, and efforts by Walmart and Target to offer package delivery services comparable to Amazon Prime. (Target has even launched its own version of Prime Day.) But Kohl’s is “unique in embracing Amazon,” the Times wrote, changing up its product offerings to have more synchronicity with Amazon’s and hoping that the in-store returns desks will lure customers into aisles:
The chain, which has tested its Amazon return strategy in Chicago, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, has also been increasing the number of its stores that carry Amazon products like smart home devices.
While Kohl’s has shared little about how the partnership works, it said on a May earnings call that it expected its expenses to increase because of store staffing and logistics for the returns program.
Ms. Gass, who took the reins at Kohl’s just over a year ago, emphasized on the call that working with Amazon was a “long-term bet” and beneficial for both companies... “What’s really key and what our data would suggest is that we’re also bringing in a new customer and we’re bringing in a younger customer,” she said. “That is significant.”
As Gizmodo has noted before, both Amazon and Kohl’s rely on low-paid labor (Kohl’s cashiers make an average of $9 an hour, and Amazon warehouse workers make $15) and have vehemently resisted unionization efforts by staff. So if you do end up going to Kohl’s to make an Amazon return, do try to remember that you’re dealing with generally poorly-compensated retail workers that have been sucked into doing more thankless work for a sprawling logistics machine. In other words, as always, please don’t be a dick about it.