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Phil Wahba 2018年11月28日

在新任首席执行官米歇尔·加斯的带领下,大型零售商科尔士正在研究如何与行业霸主亚马逊竞争及合作。

威斯康星州格拉夫顿的科尔士百货商店,一位穿着Ugg靴子、瑜伽裤和连帽衫的年轻女子走进店里。她推着一辆婴儿车,看起来二十多岁,几乎是科尔士顾客平均年龄的一半。当时科尔士的首席执行官米歇尔·加斯正在向记者介绍这家店,看到这位年轻女士后立刻停下认真观察。 “这就是我们希望科尔士将来吸引的典型顾客。”她说。

这位顾客推的婴儿车上放着可爱的宝宝,商场工作人员逗着他玩。婴儿车下部堆满了亚马逊的快递盒,堪称实体商店的克星。

虽然在百货商店首席执行官眼里,最不想看到的就是热爱在亚马逊购物的顾客,但对加斯来说,年轻妈妈出现在科尔士算是个小小的胜利。一年前科尔士大胆开启实验,旗下的1158家商店有100家处理亚马逊在线订单退货服务。(还有约30家门店销售亚马逊的智能家居产品。)科尔士已将首要任务定为吸引更多购物者走进商店,尤其是更年轻也更富裕,往往更喜欢在亚马逊购物的顾客。科尔士这么做的考虑是,如果在亚马逊购物的顾客可以在科尔士退货,比如没考虑清楚就下单买了件成人连体衣,去科尔士时会看到需要的东西,如耐克跑步短裤或华夫饼干,然后在科尔士购买。

无数人告诉加斯,将捕食者亚马逊进入科尔士无异于引狼入室。但她表示,正因为很多零售商死守过时的想法,才会陷入困境,她认为科尔士会证明自己才是疯狂的狐狸。亚马逊冲击整个零售行业已是既成现实,她说:“最重要的教训是,要改变思考方式。”

其实科尔士转变思考方式的时间并不长。在过去五年里,由于客户忠诚,商场常见问题也没怎么出现,历史悠久的科尔士避开了电商对零售业的大屠杀,还因技术和存货管理高超赢得同业最佳的声誉。但科尔士无法吸引年轻一代购物者,自2012年以来收入基本持平。

不过在过去一年半里,沉睡的巨人开始蠢蠢欲动。加斯曾在星巴克工作,在科尔士不同职位工作近五年之后,于今年5月升任首席执行官,当中就有很重要的原因。2017年,科尔士迎来多年里最成功的假期购物季之一,销售额同比增长7%;现在已连续五个季度实现“全面”增长。增长的因素很多,有一些实打实的举措,包括改造电子商务板块,引入安德玛等诱人的品牌等,也有一些反常举动,例如与亚马逊合作,以及缩减近一半的门店规模,却没有关店。结果是:科尔士股价接近历史高位,因为市场认为其增长势头并非意外。

The young woman walked into the Kohl’s store in Grafton, Wis., dressed to run errands, in Ugg boots, yoga pants, and a hoodie. She was pushing a stroller and looked to be in her twenties—barely half the age of the chain’s average customer. Kohl’s CEO, Michelle Gass, who was showing a reporter around the store, interrupted the tour to watch the younger woman intently. “This is the quintessential Kohl’s shopper we want to see in the future,” she said.

The top compartment of the woman’s stroller held a cute baby, who was duly cooed over by store workers. The lower compartment, on the other hand, was overflowing with Amazon boxes—brick-and-mortar retail kryptonite.

But while an Amazon super-shopper might seem to be the last person a department store CEO would want to see, the young mom’s presence was a small victory for Gass. As part of a daring experiment begun a year ago, Kohl’s handles returns of Amazon online orders at 100 of its 1,158 stores. (It also sells Amazon’s smart-home products at branded kiosks in about 30 stores.) Kohl’s has made it a ?mission-critical priority to get more shoppers to its stores, particularly the younger, more affluent customers Amazon tends to draw. The idea is that, when an Amazon shopper comes into a Kohl’s to return, say, an ill-advised adult onesie, she’ll see items she needs, like Nike running shorts or a waffle iron, and make a purchase at Kohl’s.

Gass has heard a million times that bringing apex predator Amazon into her stores is akin to bringing a fox into the henhouse. But that, she says, is the kind of antiquated thinking that got many retailers into trouble, and she’s betting Kohl’s will prove to be crazy like a fox. The Amazon gambit is meant to be a shock to the system, she says: “The big idea is that this is teaching us to think differently.”

Thinking differently has only recently become a priority at Kohl’s. Over the past five years, the venerable retailer has steered clear of the retail carnage that accompanied the rise of e-commerce, helped by customer loyalty and its low exposure to malls’ problems, and developed a best-in-class reputation for its tech and inventory management. But it also failed to win over many new shoppers, and its revenue has essentially flatlined since 2012.

Over the past 18 months, though, the slumber-inducing giant has started to stir, and Gass, a Starbucks alum who became CEO in May after almost five years in different roles at Kohl’s, is a big reason why. In 2017, Kohl’s enjoyed one of its most successful holiday seasons in years, with comparable sales up 7%; it has now clocked five straight quarters of “comp” growth. The growth has been driven by factors ranging from bread-and-butter moves, like overhauling its e-?commerce and bringing in coveted brands such as Under Armour, to counterintuitive ones, like inviting Amazon in—or deciding to shrink nearly half its stores while closing none. The upshot: Kohl’s stock trades near all-time highs on the assumption that its recent momentum is no fluke.

威斯康星州的科尔士百货商店里采用了数字价签,科尔士的经理可以立刻修改价格,不像用纸质价签时那样麻烦。图片来源:Chuck Burton—AP/Shutterstock

当然,能否保持势头主要看加斯。科尔士的前任首席执行官凯文·曼塞尔从星巴克挖走加斯,希望她能为科尔士带来超越传统零售业的创新思想。(此前加斯最著名的创新是推出星冰乐。)她认为科尔士可以从逐渐衰弱的竞争对手手里抢夺市场份额,比如彭尼公司、梅西百货和西尔斯百货等,还有最近倒闭的Bon-Ton Stores和玩具反斗城之类对手。加斯还在推动科尔士持续追赶网络上的竞争对手。她的工作核心是争取年轻人,因为年轻人一直觉得科尔士是妈妈一辈购物的地方。

“我们就是中部,”加斯谈起科尔士时表示,科尔士总部位于威斯康辛州密尔沃基郊外的梅诺莫尼瀑布。“我们在美国中部,也希望掌控中部人群。”

Sustaining that momentum, of course, is up to Gass. She was recruited from Starbucks by her predecessor, Kevin Mansell, who hoped she would infuse Kohl’s with radical ideas from outside traditional retail. (The radical idea she’s best known for: the frappuccino.) Now she’s betting that Kohl’s is perfectly positioned to steal market share from weakened rivals, like J.C. Penney, Macy’s, and Sears—not to mention recently shuttered ones, like Bon-Ton Stores and Toys “R” Us. She’s driving Kohl’s to continue catching up with rivals online. And her retail holy grail is winning over young adults who’ve long seen Kohl’s as the Place Where Your Mom Shops.

“We are the middle,” Gass says of Kohl’s, which is headquartered in Menomonee Falls, outside Milwaukee. “We’re Middle America. We want to own the middle.”

***

美国大众零售业最辉煌的年份当属1962年。那年第一家塔吉特,第一家沃尔玛,还有第一家凯马特开业。那年科尔士也在威斯康星州布鲁克菲尔德开设了第一家百货商店,之前科尔士是连锁杂货店,上世纪20年代由波兰移民马克思·科尔士创立。

科尔士很快找到了成功秘诀:销售百货公司常见的全国性品牌,还有一些价格实惠的自有品牌,不强迫顾客去购物中心。(1983年科尔士退出了食品行业。)科尔士的门店往往比竞争对手小:一般占地90,000平方英尺,而梅西百货通常面积130,000平方英尺。选址经常在“狭长地带”中间,更靠近顾客的家,停车更方便。现在只有7%的科尔士开在商场里。店里采取简洁的“赛道”式布局,后来证明是非常棒的设计。店里往往有一条明显的主干道绕全店一圈,购物者沿主干道走完之后正好面前就是收银台。如此可以尽可能全面地展示商品,又可提升速度和便利性,非常贴合郊区妈妈的需求。

科尔士1992年上市时有76家店,大部分位于威斯康星州和伊利诺伊州,销售额达10亿美元。在接下来的20年里稳步扩张到49个州的1150家店,2012年销售额达到193亿美元。但随着消费者口味不断变化,竞争对手不断涌现,增长趋于平稳。

不过,科尔士的销售额也不像竞争对手彭尼公司和梅西百货一样急剧下滑。主要因为科尔士通过信用奖励计划——科尔士现金商店培养了超级忠诚的客户群。多亏这项计划,科尔士约60%的销售额都通过商店充值卡完成,远远超过同行。但在电子商务大战里,科尔士还是远远落后于亚马逊,也比不上梅西百货等竞争对手。其销售额有约一半是通过自有品牌的服装销售,比如索诺玛,但跟李维斯之类的全国性品牌相比几乎没有影响力。

American mass retail never had a more prolific year than 1962. That year marked the opening of the first Target, Walmart, and Kmart stores. It was also the year that Kohl’s, a grocery chain founded in the 1920s by Polish immigrant Max Kohl, opened its first general merchandise department store in Brookfield, Wis.

Kohl’s quickly found a winning formula: selling the national brands found at department stores, along with lower-price house brands, without forcing shoppers to go to the mall. (It got out of the food business in 1983.) Its stores tend to be smaller than those of its rivals: The typical Kohl’s occupies 90,000 square feet, compared with 130,000 for the average Macy’s. They’re usually found in “strip” centers, closer to where customers live, with easier parking. Today only 7% of Kohl’s stores are in malls. The chain’s no-frills “racetrack” store layout also proved to be genius. The typical store has one defined main aisle that loops around the store to whisk shoppers in a circle that ends at cash registers at the front. That maximizes the visibility of the merchandise and adds to speed and convenience, exactly what legions of suburban moms wanted.

In 1992, when Kohl’s went public, it had 76 stores, mostly in Wisconsin and Illinois, and sales of $1 billion. Over the next two decades, it grew in a steady march to 1,150 locations in 49 states, and in 2012, its sales peaked at $19.3 billion. But then growth leveled off, stalled by consumers’ changing tastes and the rise of new rivals.

Kohl’s sales never plummeted like those at rivals J.C. Penney or Macy’s. It helped that the chain had cultivated a hyper-loyal clientele with its Kohl’s Cash store-credit rewards program. Thanks in large part to that program, about 60% of its sales go through its store-branded charge cards—far more than at its peers. Still, Kohl’s was well behind not only Amazon but also rivals like Macy’s in the e-commerce wars. It was also deriving about half its sales from house brands in apparel, like Sonoma—few of which had much cachet compared with national brands like Levi’s.

曼塞尔从2008年开始担任科尔士的首席执行官,面临增长乏力的局面,他开始为挑选继任者制定战略计划。他和董事会一致认为,科尔士需要的领导者一方面要有左脑思维,继续维持科尔士在定价和库存管理等方面的优良传统,也要充分利用右脑,具备大胆开创的一面。加斯曾在星巴克工作17年,也曾担任时装零售商安·泰勒(后来被Ascena Retail收购)的董事,她的思考方式可能刚好符合要求。

加斯缺乏管理百货商店的经验,但她很懂如何将新产品推向市场。50岁的加斯出生在缅因州雷文顿,在马萨诸塞州的伍斯特理工学院获得化学工程学位,在华盛顿大学获得MBA学位。她的职业生涯成长阶段在宝洁公司度过,曾协助开发广受欢迎的儿童佳洁士牙膏品牌。

1996年她加入星巴克,进一步发挥了开创性,在她的推动下,星冰乐增长为价值十亿美元的新业务,还将星巴克忠诚顾客计划做到行业最佳。2008年星巴克销售额全面下滑,创始人霍华德·舒尔茨重新担任首席执行官,加斯担任高级助手。她的任务包括改善星巴克食品业务,现在成了很多店的重要销售来源,还协助改善欧洲业务。她将每项新任务视为挑战,在旧传统基础上推动新举措。她曾说:“如何才能进步?如何守住核心咖啡业务的同时努力创新?”

科尔士邀请加斯时,她已准备好迎接新挑战。选择离开时,她没有想着去科尔士可以比留在星巴克更快升上首席执行官。更主要的原因是,她认为在科尔士工作30年的零售老手曼塞尔可以像之前的舒尔茨一样指导自己。“我喜欢时尚,”加斯补充说。“很有趣。”还有一点很重要:参与另一种转型很吸引她。

It was amid this meh climate that Mansell, who had been CEO since 2008, was sketching both new strategies and plans for his own succession. What Kohl’s needed, he and the board agreed, was someone who could sustain Kohl’s left-brain discipline on pricing and inventory management—but who could also tap into his or her right-brain, creative-daring side. Gass, a 17-year veteran of Starbucks who was also serving as a director of fashion company Ann Taylor (which has since been acquired by Ascena Retail), seemed to have all the right gray matter.

She lacked department store experience, but she knew plenty about getting new products to market. A native of Lewiston, Maine, Gass earned a chemical engineering degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and an MBA at the University of Washington. But the 50-year-old exec spent her formative professional years at Procter & Gamble, where she helped develop its wildly popular Crest for Kids toothpaste brand.

She raised her game higher at Starbucks, which she joined in 1996, helping to build the frappuccino into a billion-dollar business and elevating the coffee chain’s loyalty program into an industry leader. And when a broader sales slump led founder Howard Schultz to return as CEO in 2008, Gass became a top lieutenant. Her mandates included helping Starbucks improve its food business—now a staple at most cafés—and turning around its European division. She approached every new task as a challenge to make sure new initiatives built on older traditions. As she puts it, “How do you evolve? How do you keep your core—your coffee credentials—but then innovate?”

By the time Kohl’s came calling, Gass was ready for a new challenge. She waves away the idea that she saw a quicker path to the CEO role than she’d have at Starbucks. But in Mansell, who had served at Kohl’s for 30 years by then, she saw a retail veteran who could mentor her much as Schultz had. “I love fashion,” Gass adds. “It’s fun.” Last but not least: She was drawn to the idea of being part of another transformation story.

***

加斯在科尔士第一项职责就是规划转型。曼塞尔聘请加斯后,专门为她设了首席客户官的职位,负责设计零售商的转型。她花了好几个月制定计划,内部叫伟大议程,2013年年底向董事会提交,2014年初全面介绍给在科尔士销售的全国性品牌。所有人都震惊了:“她深入挖掘了消费者数据,而且努力理解李维斯对科尔士的需求。”李维斯的首席执行官奇普·伯格回忆道。“她学得非常快。”

随后加斯接手了更新科尔士忠诚顾客计划的工作,涉及3000万会员。加斯调整之后,即便顾客不用科尔士联名信用卡购物也能获得奖励,这一举措施行后获得了大量新数据,协助各店库存和销售。(最近的一项创新是:消费达到一定金额后可获得新奖励和福利。)

曼塞尔还让加斯将销售重点转移回全国性品牌,降低对自有品牌的依赖。她抓住了运动服装市场飞速发展的机会,迈出了巨大一步,而且获利丰厚。科尔士向来出售很多耐克的产品(有些人估计称,每年耐克产品在科尔士的销售额为8亿美元)。但加斯认为,如果给运动品牌更好的展示空间,而不只是挂在摆满低附加值商品的基础货架上,业务可以大大拓展。

她向顶级品牌承诺,提供科尔士商店前位置绝佳的地点,配备精美的布置和灯光,摆放抓人眼球的人体模特。首先她为科尔士最大的合作伙伴耐克提供承诺的服务,展示效果。后来吸引了Fitbit,(很快)苹果手表也加入了。2017年,加斯成功吸引到安德玛,见证了一波飞速增长。大约18个月后,安德玛变成科尔士排名第二的畅销品牌,仅次于耐克。每季度运动商品的整体销售额至少增长10%。

Gass’s first role at Kohl’s, in fact, was to write that story. Right after hiring Gass—with a title, chief customer officer, created just for her—Mansell tasked her with designing the retailer’s transformation plan. She spent months developing what was known in house as the Greatness Agenda, presenting it to the board in late 2013 and to the national-brand vendors who sold through Kohl’s in early 2014. All around were impressed: “She had dug into consumer data insights and really tried to understand what Levi’s needed from Kohl’s,” recalls Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh. “She was a really quick study.”

She then took on the job of updating Kohl’s loyalty program, with its 30 million members. Gass tweaked it so customers could earn rewards even if they didn’t shop with a Kohl’s credit card—a move that opened up a mother lode of new data to help stores make decisions about what to stock and sell. (A more recent innovation: Customers who hit certain spending thresholds get new incentives and perks.)

Mansell also tasked Gass with shifting Kohl’s portfolio back toward national brands, with much less focus on its house brands. On that front, she made a big and profitable leap into the booming activewear market. Kohl’s had always had a good selection of Nike (it sells $800 million a year of Nike products, by some estimates). But Gass believed the chain could expand the business enormously if it gave activewear brands a better showcase than the basic shelf space in Kohl’s low-frills emporia.

She wooed top brands by promising them dedicated spaces with prominent placement at the front of Kohl’s stores, along with fancier fixtures and lighting and more eye-catching mannequins. She used Nike, Kohl’s biggest brand partner, to showcase the approach. The campaign lured Fitbit and (briefly) the Apple Watch. And in 2017, it helped Gass land Under Armour, then riding a wave of enormous growth. Some 18 months later, Under Armour is the second-bestselling national brand at Kohl’s, after Nike. And overall sales in activewear are growing by at least 10% each quarter.

科尔士在精心计算风险后,与亚马逊达成合作,顾客可以在100家科尔士商店办理亚马逊网站退货。图片来源:Courtesy of Kohls

科尔士的伟大议程引发很多人兴趣,但对整体业绩帮助不大。2017年公司计划完成210亿美元的收入,当年实际收入却低于190亿美元。付出了巨大努力却还是达不到目标,加斯和团队尝试看似更疯狂的举动:跟亚马逊合作。

根据两家公司于2017年9月宣布的计划,科尔士将处理亚马逊退货业务,通过自家运输渠道送回亚马逊的仓库。亚马逊将在科尔士经营商店,但仅出售智能家居产品,如语音助手Amazon Echo,科尔士不得销售亚马逊竞争对手产品。

这一消息引发了零售分析师怀疑,其中许多人担心亚马逊会夺走科尔士的电子商务客户,影响其在线销售增长。也有一些人看懂了加斯的思路。“不管怎么做,亚马逊都会变成竞争对手。”GlobalData Retail的尼尔·桑德斯说,他很赞赏科尔士的务实精神。为何不趁着亚马逊流行,多吸引些人到店里呢?或许股价更明显表现了市场的态度,华尔街很支持科尔士的大刀阔斧改革。公告发布后股价上涨,之后12个月里几乎翻了一番。

科尔士和亚马逊拒绝提供合作情况的数据。(加斯观察到的推婴儿车的妈妈很快便离开商店,看不出她有没有留意过道边的商品。)但如果购物者在科尔士网站使用类似自提服务,在官网下单然后去店面提货,通常要收取网络销售价25%的费用,因为自提的顾客往往比较匆忙。《财富》去格拉夫顿的科尔士采访那天早上,第一位进门的顾客是位很着急的女性,忙着退回在亚马逊买的20多件万圣节服装。零售商怎么可能不想吸引喜欢大批采购的购物者?

Kohl’s Greatness Agenda was generating interest, but the overall top line wasn’t moving: The company, which aimed to bring in $21?billion in revenue in 2017, instead fell below $19 billion that year. The sting of falling short of that goal despite a big effort motivated Gass and her team to try something that seemed far crazier on the surface: the Amazon partnership.

Under the plan, which the two companies announced in September 2017, Kohl’s would process Amazon’s returns, sending them back to its rival’s warehouses with its own shipping infrastructure. And Amazon would operate its own stores-within-stores at Kohl’s, but only to sell smart-home tech like the voice-activated Amazon Echo—arenas in which Kohl’s doesn’t sell a competing product.

The news inspired skepticism from retail analysts, many of whom fretted that Amazon would steal Kohl’s own e-commerce customers and stunt its online sales growth. But others saw things Gass’s way. “Amazon is going to be a competitor come what may,” says Neil Saunders of GlobalData Retail, who gives Kohl’s kudos for its pragmatism; why not leverage its popularity to get a few more people in the door? Perhaps most tellingly, Wall Street rewarded Kohl’s for shaking things up. Shares rose on the announcement, and they have nearly doubled in the ensuing 12 months.

Kohl’s and Amazon decline to offer data on how the partnership has fared. (The stroller mom Gass observed scooted out of sight before it could be determined whether she browsed the aisles.) But a similar service, where shoppers can go in-store to pick up an order from Kohls.com, typically adds 25% to any given online transaction, as pickup customers buy things on the fly. On the morning Fortune visited the Kohl’s in Grafton, the first customer through the door was a harried woman returning 20 or so Halloween costumes to Amazon. And what retailer wouldn’t want to woo a shopper who buys in bulk?

***

如果说加斯不怕亚马逊,可能是因为科尔斯在技术进步方面一直很自信。今年零售业最大的矛盾之一是,在网上表现最好的实体连锁店都没有关店。百思买、Ulta Beauty、家得宝、诺德斯特龙,当然还有科尔士都是例子。这也是为什么加斯和团队如此坚定地吸引人们进商店,因为当前电商和实体零售正相互促进。根据eMarketer的数据,2013年以来电子商务已从占科尔士收入的9.1%增长到占比18.7%,每年销售额达36亿美元。在科尔士网站上可选的商品数量是实体店的四倍,而且今年的假日购物季里,近50%的在线订单将在科尔士实体店自提。

为了弄清要点,做些实验犯些错误也有必要。加斯刚到科尔士时测试了一些科幻手段,包括展示全息产品图像,还有美容柜台的增强现实镜子。但最后发现普通的商品反而收益最高,也帮助科尔士“与时俱进”,这也是加斯最喜欢说的词。“一定要认清自身,然后实现核心创新。”科尔士的总裁索娜·查拉说道。 查拉曾担任连锁药店沃尔格林的数字业务负责人,2015年加入科尔士负责技术和电子商务业务。她也曾是接替曼塞尔的候选人,现在负责设计科尔士的技术战略,过去三年里该战略已耗资10亿美元。

查拉表示,判断创新方向时更倾向采用“外科手术方式”。这意味着不用全息图像(只是目前),但会多做尝试,例如今年假日购物季将多安排员工手持结账设备,避免顾客结账时长时间排队。还有一块影响很大:采用RFID(射频识别)标签后,科尔士可实时掌握每件库存,也更容易向客户确保有货。“这就为科尔士的忠实购物者解决了真正的问题,实用程度远超魔镜或虚拟现实。”数字咨询公司Publicis.Sapient的商务高级副总裁杰森·戈德伯格说。

存货管理确实可能是科尔士的秘密武器。即便销售额增加,同期商店库存也能实现同比下降约8%。这意味着影响利润的因素减少,也不必投入很多工人管理库存,还能迅速改变销售的产品。进一步利用该数据后,科尔士也可通过机器学习帮助商店经理发现畅销商品,意味着每家科尔士店面销售商品的分类会各不相同。数据也是加斯将店面经营权力下放的重要工具:“商店经理就是首席执行官。”她说。

反过来,店面存货减少后科尔士就能创造性地缩小规模。在主要零售商里,科尔士是唯一一家选择缩减商店销售空间,却不关闭商店。目前约占一半的门店,500多家店存货规模几乎缩减了三分之一,通道之间留出更多空间。不少科尔士商场计划将腾出的空间转租给其他带来稳定客流的门店,如健身房或杂货店,既能产生租金收入又能引来客流,也是双赢。明年,科尔士将与几家Aldi杂货店共同测试,杂货店将入驻科尔士收缩后留出的空间。

“降低库存可为一些特别项目提供空间。”沃顿商学院教授芭芭拉·汗表示。留出的空间也可用于举办活动、临时展览、开咖啡馆,或者其他比挂满衣服的架子更有趣的东西。如此一来商场会变得更有吸引力。但这与传统零售业“堆得越高,销路越好”模式明显不同。对科尔士来说,“再也不会回到老路了。”加斯说。

If Gass isn’t afraid of Amazon, it may be because Kohl’s has been handling its own tech evolution with surprising aplomb. One of the great paradoxes of retail this year has been that the best performing brick-and-mortar chains online have also been the ones not closing stores wholesale. Think Best Buy, Ulta Beauty, Home Depot, Nordstrom, and, of course, Kohl’s. And that is why Gass and her team are so adamant about getting people into stores: E-commerce and physical retail feed each other in this day and age. Since 2013, e-commerce has gone from generating 9.1% of Kohl’s revenue to 18.7%, making it a $3.6-billion-a-year business, according to eMarketer. There are four times as many items available on the website as there are in Kohl’s stores—and this holiday season, nearly 50% of online orders will be filled by Kohl’s stores.

Figuring out where to focus took some trial and error. During Gass’s early years, Kohl’s experimented with sci-fi touches, including ?holograms for product displays and augmented-?reality mirrors at beauty counters. But ultimately, Kohl’s found that the unsexy stuff offers the biggest payoff and helps Kohl’s “contemporize” itself, to use a favorite verb of Gass’s. “You have to know who you are and then innovate to your core,” says Kohl’s president Sona Chawla. Chawla was the head of digital at Walgreens before joining Kohl’s in 2015 to overhaul its tech and e-commerce. She was also a candidate to succeed Mansell; now she’s the architect of the chain’s tech strategy, on which it has spent $1 billion in the past three years.

Chawla says she favors a “surgical approach” in deciding where to innovate. That means no holograms (yet) but more testing of things like line-busting handheld check-out devices, which Kohl’s will trot out during the holiday season. Also making an impact: RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags that let Kohl’s know where virtually any piece of inventory is in real time, making it easier to assure customers that the products they want are in stock. “That’s solving a real problem for the core Kohl’s shopper, much more so than magic mirrors or virtual reality,” says Jason Goldberg, a senior vice president of commerce at digital consultancy Publicis.Sapient.

Indeed, inventory tech may be Kohl’s secret weapon. Even as sales tick up, store inventory these days is down about 8% year over year. That has meant fewer profit-devouring markdowns, less need for store workers to devote time to stock management, and the ability to more quickly change up the products it sells. Leveraging that same data, Kohl’s is using machine learning to help managers at the store level see what is selling the best, meaning that no two Kohl’s locations sell the same product assortment. This is a key tool in Gass’s effort to decentralize how the chain is run:“The store manager is CEO,” she says.

Having less stuff in its stores, in turn, will enable Kohl’s to downsize in inventive ways. Kohl’s is the only major retailer working on shrinking selling space at stores en masse rather than close them: Some 500 stores, nearly half its fleet, already are stocked as if they were a third smaller, with more space between aisles. In many cases, Kohl’s plans to sublet the extra space to other businesses that generate frequent visits, like gyms or grocery stores—a double win that could generate both rental income and foot traffic. Next year, Kohl’s will test the idea with a few Aldi grocery stores that will move into next-door-neighbor spaces freed up by Kohl’s shrinkages.

“Lower inventory clears up floor space for special projects,” notes Wharton School professor Barbara Khan. Extra space could also be used for events, temporary exhibits, cafés, or just anything more interesting than yet another shelf full of clothes. And that makes the stores more inviting destinations. It’s a big departure from retail’s old “stack ’em high, watch ’em fly” model. For Kohl’s, “that’s over,” says Gass.

***

加斯和家人住在密尔沃基郊区,她很喜欢利用家人睡觉时的安静氛围。她通常凌晨4:30起床,制定策略,查看前一天的销售,冥想,要么锻炼。“这是我的思考时间。”她说。

最近,她一直在考虑代沟问题。根据咨询机构坎塔尔零售的数据,去科尔士购物者的平均年龄为50.3岁,跟加斯的年龄差不多,但比塔吉特购物者平均年龄(当然还有亚马逊)要大。所以科尔士最重要的任务是吸引年轻顾客,特别是组建家庭的年轻一代。最近在《女装日报》零售首席执行官论坛上,加斯谈到千禧一代时表示,“我们的工作尚未完成。我个人的首要目标是,彻底破解零售行业的密码。”

她的策略里有个重要板块,将科尔士打造为购买美妆产品可靠的选择,也是购物者去逛零售商的主要动力。目前美妆领域销售额仅占2%,远低于科尔士5%的目标。不过进展明显,科尔士最近上架了拉尔夫·劳伦的Polo香水,以及古驰的竹韵香水等高端产品。科尔士的一些门店里也在尝试更宽阔的美妆区域,布置也更漂亮。

其他方面,加斯则大力推广已经验证的经验。科尔士在俄亥俄州的四家商店里,正尝试将运动服装领域扩大40%。“如何能在保留科尔士特色的前提下尽可能应用经验?”她沉思道。该计划还包括动态调整价格。目前科尔士正测试客户愿不愿意为阿迪达斯Boost之类高档鞋支付120美元,经典款价格一般为80美元。

科尔士争夺年轻购物者还有个重要的战场,就是自有品牌,涉及索诺玛等数十亿美元的商品,也包括与设计师王薇薇和歌手珍妮弗·洛佩兹合作的品牌。目前自有品牌占总销售额的42%,仍是业务的重要组成部分。自有品牌比全国性品牌利润更高,也可增强科尔士的独家感。一些竞争对手已经开了好头:塔吉特和沃尔玛各自升级了服装系列,成果明显。

一些品牌更新后,科尔士的自有品牌也迎来上升。加斯希望团队更灵活,更迅速地创建品牌以满足人们对新奇的需求,其实不管网购还是去H&M之类快时尚零售商无非是找新奇感。科尔士已将从设计到交付成衣的时间减少了40%,更容易跟上趋势,也可避免失败。明年春天科尔士将推出名为EVRI的大码品牌,主要针对千禧一代女性,希望跟彭尼公司和塔吉特竞争。

科尔士的假日季销售策略也格外关注年轻家庭。今年圣诞期间,所有店都会摆放圣诞老人,方便全家人跟圣诞老人合影,这次科尔士打破了逛店快进快出的传统。 玩具反斗城倒闭后,科尔士也跟乐高和FAO Schwarz等品牌合作加强玩具销售,抢占市场空间。

通过假日购物季的广告也能看出,科尔士多么渴望变成全新的时尚品牌。科尔士的电视广告主打西部冒险风格,英雄是一位妈妈骑马穿过边境风格的小镇,一边向家人抛时尚的礼物,电压力锅!耐克运动鞋!Xbox游戏机!家人一脸感激。她从马背跳上装满科尔士现金积分的棚车后才能看清脸,非常年轻。

Gass likes to take advantage of the quiet in her house in suburban Milwaukee while her family sleeps. She typically rises at 4:30 a.m. to map out strategy, look at the previous day’s sales, meditate, or work out. “That’s my thinking time,” she says.

Lately, she’s been thinking about a generation gap. The average Kohl’s shopper is 50.3 years old, according to Kantar Retail data. That’s almost exactly Gass’s age, but it skews older than the average at Target (and certainly at Amazon). Much of Kohl’s heavy lifting is aimed at luring younger customers, particularly as they start to build families. When it comes to wooing millennials, Gass said at the recent WWD retail CEO conference, “we have not done our job. And I’m making it a personal priority to make sure that once and for all, we crack the code.”

One big plank in her strategy: making Kohl’s a credible destination for beauty products—a major driver of shopper visits for all kinds of retailers. Presently, beauty is stuck at 2% of sales, well short of Kohl’s 5% goal. But the chain is making progress, recently adding higher-end products like Ralph Lauren’s Polo fragrances and Gucci’s Bamboo perfume. And it is experimenting with much larger beauty areas with fancier fixtures in some stores.

Elsewhere, Gass is doubling down on what already works: At four stores in Ohio, Kohl’s is testing activewear areas that are 40% larger in size. “How far can we push this with it still being Kohl’s?” she muses. The initiative involves pushing things along the price spectrum: Kohl’s is testing to see whether customers will pay $120 for upscale shoe brands like Adidas Boost, up from the more typical $80.

A big front in Kohl’s battle for younger shoppers is its house brands, which include billion-dollar businesses like its Sonoma brand, as well as lines with Vera Wang and Jennifer Lopez. At 42% of sales, they remain a big part of the business; they’re more profitable than national brands and give Kohl’s something exclusive that sets it apart. Here, too, some rivals have a head start: Target and Walmart have each upgraded their clothing lines, with some notable successes.

After some brand refreshes, Kohl’s own labels are finally on the upswing again. Gass wants her team to be nimbler and faster in creating brands, to satisfy the urge for novelty that online shopping and fast-fashion retailers like H&M can slake. Already, Kohl’s has cut the time from design to delivery of some clothing by 40%, making it easier to jump on trends or drop flops. And Kohl’s will finally launch a brand for plus-size millennial women, called EVRI, in the spring, hoping to catch up with J.C. Penney and Target.

The focus on young families is also shaping Kohl’s holiday strategy. This Christmas season all stores will have a Santa Claus with whom families can pose—a big break from Kohl’s get-in-and-out-fast heritage. To take advantage of the demise of Toys “R” Us, Kohl’s has ramped up its toy sections with brands like Lego and FAO Schwarz.

Even the holiday-season ads show the new, hipper brand that Kohl’s aspires to be. Kohl’s centerpiece TV commercial features a Western-style adventure in which the hero is a mom on horseback riding through a frontier-style town and tossing trendy gifts—an Instant Pot! Nike sneakers! An Xbox!—to grateful family members. Only after she leaps from her horse onto a boxcar full of Kohl’s Cash do you get a close look at her face and see how young she is.

***

说回格拉夫顿商店,这是科尔士在美国用来测试新想法的58家店之一,加斯介绍了一种新实验。购物者在入口附近一眼就能看到科尔士的LC Lauren Conrad时装品牌。该区域非常显眼,科尔士每隔几周换一次展示内容,每次换不同品牌。在诺德斯特龙、梅西百货和塔吉特,这都是标准操作,但科尔士还是首次尝试。

此举目标是购物者每次访问时都能看到新东西,希望他们能经常光顾。这也代表了加斯的信念,即科尔士会不断尝试新手段,不能满足于停在中游。在零售业,“十次次尝试九次失败,所以(零售商)应该尝试30次,”Forrester分析师苏查莱特·考达利说。 “亚马逊的生死就靠着不断尝试。”加斯希望科尔士能活下去。

2017年,科尔士推出了K Lab系列时尚服饰,结果惨败。开发过程中,科尔士的团队与PopSugar合作,PopSugar是很受千禧一代女性欢迎的社交媒体公司。两家公司合作开发了一条服装生产线,只花几个月就能确保产品上架,比过去速度更快。“推陈出新的速度不断加快,可以不断循环。”加斯说。换句话说,失败会出现得越来越快,但成功也一样。(财富中文网)

本文的另一版本发表于2018年12月1日的《财富》杂志上,标题为《米歇尔·加斯求解科尔士的成功密码》。

译者:Pessy

审校:夏林

Back at the Grafton store, one of 58 around the country that Kohl’s uses as a laboratory for new ideas, Gass is pointing out another experiment. One of the first things shoppers see near the entrance is a display of Kohl’s LC Lauren Conrad fashion brand. It’s staged in a prominent area that Kohl’s plans to change every few weeks to showcase a different brand. This is standard operating procedure at Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Target, but it’s new at Kohl’s.

The goal is to show shoppers something new on each visit—and make sure they don’t stop visiting. But it’s also symbolic of Gass’s belief that Kohl’s will only escape the middle of the pack by continually trying new tricks. In retail, “nine out of 10 experiments aren’t going to work, so [retailers] need to have a pipeline of 30 experiments,” says Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali. “Amazon lives and dies by this.” Gass wants to make sure Kohl’s lives.

In 2017, Kohl’s launched a fashion-forward clothing line called K Lab. It bombed badly. But during the development process, the Kohl’s team was introduced to PopSugar, a social media company popular with millennial women. The two companies collaborated on a clothing line that needed only a few months to get products on shelves—light speed, compared with Kohl’s past practices. “Our metabolic rate is increasing, and that feeds on itself,” says Gass. In other words,the flops are coming faster—but so are the successes.

A version of this article appears in the December 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “Michelle Gass Is Cracking The Kohl’s Code.”

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