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Strategy We went to a Kohl's store and saw how it's bucking the trend of dying department stores and malls (KSS)

Many department stores are closing their doors, but Kohl's has managed to defy the retail meltdown and find some success.

  • Published:
The electronics department at Kohl's in Jersey City, New Jersey. play

The electronics department at Kohl's in Jersey City, New Jersey.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

  • Despite the recent struggles of mall-based department stores like Sears, Macy's, and JC Penney, Kohl's has seen some success.
  • One reason for this is that nine out of 10 Kohl's stores are located in suburban strip malls, away from enclosed shopping malls.
  • Kohl's has also made an effort to partner with retailers like Amazon and Aldi.

While thousands of mall-based stores close across America, Kohl's is thriving.

The retailer's same-store sales surged in the critical holiday period, making bigger gains than some of its rivals, including Macy's.

In large part, this is because nine out of 10 Kohl's stores are one-level stores in suburban strip malls rather than shopping malls. This makes the retailer less likely to be affected by the declining foot traffic that has hurt malls and the retailers that depend on them, like Sears, Macy's, and JC Penney, which have all announced store closures in recent years.

On top of that, Kohl's is actually shrinking some stores as opposed to closing down completely, in addition to opening smaller stores that are about one-sixth the size of a typical Macy's. The company has also recently introduced initiatives like adding Aldi grocery stores to test locations, carrying more national brands like Adidas, and becoming a return center for Amazon purchases at select locations.

I visited a Kohl's store in Jersey City, New Jersey, to see in person what the company is doing to defy the retail apocalypse. Here's what I found:

This particular Kohl's store was in a shopping mall, but most are in strip malls or are stand-alone stores. According to the company, nine out of 10 Kohl's stores are located away from enclosed malls.

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(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Source: Business Insider



The store was really bright and open, and it was super clean, too. Something that stood out throughout the store is that all of the displays were intact, and everything was very neatly arranged. The store was fairly empty at the time I visited.

The store was really bright and open, and it was super clean, too. Something that stood out throughout the store is that all of the displays were intact, and everything was very neatly arranged. The store was fairly empty at the time I visited. play

The store was really bright and open, and it was super clean, too. Something that stood out throughout the store is that all of the displays were intact, and everything was very neatly arranged. The store was fairly empty at the time I visited.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The display closest to the entrance showed a huge selection of men's suits. Just about everything in the store seemed to be either on sale or clearance.

The display closest to the entrance showed a huge selection of men's suits. Just about everything in the store seemed to be either on sale or clearance. play

The display closest to the entrance showed a huge selection of men's suits. Just about everything in the store seemed to be either on sale or clearance.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The digital sale signs listed how the regular and sale prices would compare for a range of different items. For example, this sign showed what a 10% discount would equate to for items costing between $20 and $70. This would potentially make keeping track of what you're spending a lot easier — before you get to the register.

The digital sale signs listed how the regular and sale prices would compare for a range of different items. For example, this sign showed what a 10% discount would equate to for items costing between $20 and $70. This would potentially make keeping track of what you're spending a lot easier — before you get to the register. play

The digital sale signs listed how the regular and sale prices would compare for a range of different items. For example, this sign showed what a 10% discount would equate to for items costing between $20 and $70. This would potentially make keeping track of what you're spending a lot easier — before you get to the register.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The suits led into a huge clearance section, which was one of many throughout the store. It had tons of clothes in all different styles and sizes, from 60% to 80% off the original price.

The suits led into a huge clearance section, which was one of many throughout the store. It had tons of clothes in all different styles and sizes, from 60% to 80% off the original price. play

The suits led into a huge clearance section, which was one of many throughout the store. It had tons of clothes in all different styles and sizes, from 60% to 80% off the original price.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Adidas and Nike displays were next to the clearance section, and a lot of the displays here had sale signs as well. Kohl's has put a special focus on bringing more national brands to stores.

Adidas and Nike displays were next to the clearance section, and a lot of the displays here had sale signs as well. Kohl's has put a special focus on bringing more national brands to stores. play

Adidas and Nike displays were next to the clearance section, and a lot of the displays here had sale signs as well. Kohl's has put a special focus on bringing more national brands to stores.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Source: Fortune



The women's accessories section was nearby. It was a small department, but it had a relatively large selection of handbags, scarves, belts, and sunglasses.

The women's accessories section was nearby. It was a small department, but it had a relatively large selection of handbags, scarves, belts, and sunglasses. play

The women's accessories section was nearby. It was a small department, but it had a relatively large selection of handbags, scarves, belts, and sunglasses.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Like the clothes, most of the accessories were on sale.

Like the clothes, most of the accessories were on sale. play

Like the clothes, most of the accessories were on sale.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The makeup department was smaller than at most department stores, but it still carried a variety of brands for a range of prices.

The makeup department was smaller than at most department stores, but it still carried a variety of brands for a range of prices. play

The makeup department was smaller than at most department stores, but it still carried a variety of brands for a range of prices.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The women's section of the store was huge, and it had a lot of different brands, sizes, and styles. One perk was that instead of having everything spread out throughout the store, it was all in one area.

The women's section of the store was huge, and it had a lot of different brands, sizes, and styles. One perk was that instead of having everything spread out throughout the store, it was all in one area. play

The women's section of the store was huge, and it had a lot of different brands, sizes, and styles. One perk was that instead of having everything spread out throughout the store, it was all in one area.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The store carried national brands like Columbia at discounted prices, but it also carried items from its private-label brand, Sonoma. Kohl's has made it a priority to speed up production time for its private-label brands.

The store carried national brands like Columbia at discounted prices, but it also carried items from its private-label brand, Sonoma. Kohl's has made it a priority to speed up production time for its private-label brands. play

The store carried national brands like Columbia at discounted prices, but it also carried items from its private-label brand, Sonoma. Kohl's has made it a priority to speed up production time for its private-label brands.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Source: Fortune



Like the men's department, the women's department had a huge clearance section with every style on sale, ranging in price from under $10 to over $100, depending on the brand and style.

Like the men's department, the women's department had a huge clearance section with every style on sale, ranging in price from under $10 to over $100, depending on the brand and style. play

Like the men's department, the women's department had a huge clearance section with every style on sale, ranging in price from under $10 to over $100, depending on the brand and style.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


The main fitting rooms were by the women's clothing, and there were about eight rooms that were all pretty small.

The main fitting rooms were by the women's clothing, and there were about eight rooms that were all pretty small. play

The main fitting rooms were by the women's clothing, and there were about eight rooms that were all pretty small.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


In addition, there were smaller fitting-room areas in nearly every department throughout the store.

In addition, there were smaller fitting-room areas in nearly every department throughout the store. play

In addition, there were smaller fitting-room areas in nearly every department throughout the store.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


This Kohl's was different from other Kohl's stores because it had two levels instead of just one. Home decor was the first department when I got off the escalator on the second floor.

This Kohl's was different from other Kohl's stores because it had two levels instead of just one. Home decor was the first department when I got off the escalator on the second floor. play

This Kohl's was different from other Kohl's stores because it had two levels instead of just one. Home decor was the first department when I got off the escalator on the second floor.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


This department took up about half of the upper level of the store.

This department took up about half of the upper level of the store. play

This department took up about half of the upper level of the store.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Also upstairs was the kids section, which included clothes, shoes ...

Also upstairs was the kids section, which included clothes, shoes ... play

Also upstairs was the kids section, which included clothes, shoes ...

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


... and a pretty big selection of toys.

... and a pretty big selection of toys. play

... and a pretty big selection of toys.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


There were a lot of appliances available in-store, from vacuums to popcorn makers.

There were a lot of appliances available in-store, from vacuums to popcorn makers. play

There were a lot of appliances available in-store, from vacuums to popcorn makers.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


It seemed like they had just about everything you might need for a kitchen or bathroom.

It seemed like they had just about everything you might need for a kitchen or bathroom. play

It seemed like they had just about everything you might need for a kitchen or bathroom.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


There was a big customer-service center in the back of the store. Kohl's has a "hassle-free" return policy that allows customers to return anything at any time, without a receipt, and get a full refund. The one exception to the rule is premium electronics, which need to be returned within 30 days of purchase.

There was a big customer-service center in the back of the store. Kohl's has a "hassle-free" return policy that allows customers to return anything at any time, without a receipt, and get a full refund. The one exception to the rule is premium electronics, which need to be returned within 30 days of purchase. play

There was a big customer-service center in the back of the store. Kohl's has a "hassle-free" return policy that allows customers to return anything at any time, without a receipt, and get a full refund. The one exception to the rule is premium electronics, which need to be returned within 30 days of purchase.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

In some stores in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas, Kohl's has created centers where customers can return Amazon orders as well.



One thing that surprised me was the breadth of the electronics section, which had everything from Apple watches to video games and even record players. The store also carried Amazon devices like the Kindle.

One thing that surprised me was the breadth of the electronics section, which had everything from Apple watches to video games and even record players. The store also carried Amazon devices like the Kindle. play

One thing that surprised me was the breadth of the electronics section, which had everything from Apple watches to video games and even record players. The store also carried Amazon devices like the Kindle.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)

Kohl's and Amazon are partnering on a few different initiatives, including electronics sales and Amazon product returns.

As Business Insider's Hayley Peterson has reported, some retail experts have predicted that Amazon could acquire Kohl's as Amazon looks to increase its presence in the physical retail world.



Because this particular Kohl's had two floors and was located in a mall, there were multiple cash registers located by each entrance.

Because this particular Kohl's had two floors and was located in a mall, there were multiple cash registers located by each entrance. play

Because this particular Kohl's had two floors and was located in a mall, there were multiple cash registers located by each entrance.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Also by the registers were small displays with gift cards, lotion, and other last-minute things to buy.

Also by the registers were small displays with gift cards, lotion, and other last-minute things to buy. play

Also by the registers were small displays with gift cards, lotion, and other last-minute things to buy.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


Overall, the store was bright, clean, well-organized, and had both national and in-house brands at discounted prices.

Overall, the store was bright, clean, well-organized, and had both national and in-house brands at discounted prices. play

Overall, the store was bright, clean, well-organized, and had both national and in-house brands at discounted prices.

(Business Insider/Jessica Tyler)


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