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Keep Your Collaborators Close and Your Most Damaging Competitors Even Closer

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Perhaps the most inconvenient aspect of shopping online is returning an item that failed to meet expectations. Repacking and taking the unwanted item to a shipping location is often inconvenient, time consuming and expensive. Amid all the fanfare about how online sellers are eating brick and mortar retailers for lunch, a surprising partnership between one of the nation’s leading, traditional department store chains and online giant Amazon is attracting a great deal of attention.

Beginning in July, if you buy something on Amazon and want to send it back, Kohl’s will take the unwanted item off your hands and return it to Amazon for you. The department store chain has announced that it will accept Amazon returns at all of its 1,150 stores. Kohl’s says it will accept “eligible Amazon items, without a box or label, and return them for customers for free.” The program is an expansion of a pilot program introduced at Kohl’s stores in the Los Angeles, Chicago and Milwaukee markets in 2017. “Amazon and Kohl’s have a shared passion in providing outstanding customer service, and this unique partnership combines Kohl’s strong nationwide store footprint and omnichannel capabilities with Amazon’s reach and customer loyalty,” Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass said. She added that this is part of the company’s bigger plan to “drive traffic” to stores and “bring more relevance” to shoppers.

Kohl’s predicts the partnership with Amazon will help attract consumers and get them to  buy something while in store to return an unwanted Amazon purchase. As a result of the pilot program in Chicago, Kohl’s reported a 9% increase in new customers and increased sales volume in stores participating in the program. Shares of Kohl’s Corp. soared nearly 12% after the announced expansion of the program.

The brick and mortar retailer also announced plans to carry Amazon products in more than 200 of its stores. The moves are seen as an attempt to respond to the decline in traditional retail sales brought on by consumers trending towards online purchasing. Forming a partnership with your biggest competitor could be akin to keeping your collaborators close and your most damaging competitors even closer.

It is also a good example of how the survival of traditional retailers is dependent on creating a positive experience for consumers who have abandoned the Malls and embraced online shopping. If brick and mortar sellers are to survive, they will need to reevaluate their marketing strategies, form mutually beneficial partnerships and focus on doing the things for customers that the competition is unwilling or unable to do.  This partnership will set the example for others to follow!