Describe Kohl’s in one phrase

Kohls5_2 Paul over at Hee-Haw Marketing took some pretty damning photos at his local Kohl’s.  He raises some great issues about advertising and saying one thing and living another.

Then, Mack Collier picked up the ball and posted this very interesting question:  If the CMO of Kohl’s saw Paul’s post…what should he/she do?

I started to add my comment to Mack’s post and then I could hear Mike Sansone whispering in my ear “long comments should be posts on your own site.”  So here we have it.

So….Kohl’s has a significant problem.  There were lots of good comments on Mack’s site, suggesting what the CMO should do.  I didn’t disagree with any of them.

But they all started at stage two — at the store level.

I believe the CMO needs to start at the beginning.  The Kohl’s brand.  That’s why I asked you how you’d describe the store.  Most of us would use words like “cheap, knock offs, second runs, last year’s styles, shoddy production, disinterested employees.”

Every choice the store makes — the stock, the short-handed staff, the under trained staff, the crowded junked up retail ads…tells us that the employees who allowed that Dallas store to look like that were simply behaving as they have been taught to behave.  They don’t show the store or the customers any respect because no one has taught them to respect the brand.

Punishing a store manager or answering a blog post isn’t going to fix that.  That’s treating the symptom, not the cause.  If an organization’s leaders are not willing to explore and uncover what their brand is all about — why they exist (and I do not believe any store exists to offer crap in a shoddy  store  staffed by disgruntled, short-handed staffers)  then really, there is little hope.   They will go down the path of K-Mart and others who thought “low prices” was enough.

If Kohl’s management could change the way they look at the chain by seeing it through a brand lens, they would change the way the employees see it.  When the employees see if differently, they begin to take pride in their work and their environment.  No matter how inexpensive the merchandise is.  And when that happens — they change our perception.

Until then…let me recommend Target.  By the way….Kohl’s tagline on their website…”expect great things.”

Yikes.  They even bolded great.

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23 comments on “Describe Kohl’s in one phrase

  1. Paul McEnany says:


    Thanks for posting about this!

    And, I totally agree. I’ve heard 3 different stories from 3 different states now, all with the same experience. Obviously there’s something wrong at the top for this to be happening.

    But, if they’re ok with being a second rate brand, that’s their prerogative, I guess.

  2. Paul,

    I suppose you are correct — they have a right to be 2nd rate. But then they should simply embrace that and not send mixed messages in their advertising.

    If the sweaters are going to be in a pile on the floor, why not show it that way in the ad?!


  3. Amber,

    Like you, I have been won over by the Target brand and experience. They don’t make you feel dirty or cheap for wanting to buy inexpensive items.

    I think that’s the biggest problem Kohls has — how they make us, the customer, feel when we walk in the door!


  4. Paul McEnany says:

    Ha! That would be awesome if they’d show crap everywhere in the commercials. There’s some truth in advertising for ya!

  5. Paul,

    It would be awesome to us! Not sure sure it would drive a lot of traffic. But…really, would it be doing more damage than their bait and switch ads are doing now?

    It’s no surprise to me that none of us who are blogging on this topic have heard from Kohls.

    Clearly at this point their brand is very much about “we don’t really care.”


  6. mark says:

    when i take a look at the frontpage of the kohl’s website they are not even able to stack up a number of pants for a picture. what can you expect from store staff without any supervision or training?

    kohl can be sign for the dole as their life is about to end

  7. Mark,

    We’ll see. Many companies with mediocre company service and products seem to not only exist but to thrive.

    I think as consumers we just accept it and let them keep on keepin’ on.


  8. jill says:

    wow..what a mess..BUT..stop by the st joseph missouri store you wont find that mess..i promise!!!!…even at christmas…

  9. Jill,

    I am sure that many of the Kohl’s stores have employees who take incredible pride in their work and their store. It sounds like the crew in St. Joe’s is one of them.

    As a potential customer, I’ll thank you in advance. Just like in our homes, we say a lot about how we feel about our guests when we keep our workplace inviting.


  10. amandas says:

    I am actually an associate at a store in Kentucky and I do not think I have EVER seen our store look anything remotely like those pictures. I guess it has to do with our store manager and our associates. You cannot judge the whole company from one store. That store may just have management that does not care how customers perceive them. We are overworked and the company would rather pay for advertising than give associates a raise but they are in it to make money and advertising is how they get the customers in to spend the money. However, I truly believe that if customers would just have a little bit more common decency and actually pick things up if they drop them, do not unfold every one of the same size items, and not try on twenty different items and hang them up inside out and leave them in the fitting room for us to pick up, we may actually have time to fold items and restock and do a million other things that need to be done on a daily basis. We cannot get to it because people are PIGS. You have the mentality that it is our job to clean up after you and that is simply NOT the truth. It is our job to provide customer service but we should not have to clean up messes because the general public is too lazy to pick up after themselves. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I know that it should pay about $20 and hour to put up with the customers that we have in our stores. The people who think it is okay to relieve themselves in the fitting rooms or leave used diapers in shoe boxes or the all time worst stick a used feminine product to the wall in the fitting room. Well if you people want to criticize how we get things done maybe you should spend a month working in our store. You wouldn’t get anything accomplished either. Oh, and most of us do take pride in our work, but when you are short staffed and you are struggling to find people who will put up with customers like ours for more than a week for the money we get paid, you are hard pressed to even give a damn about what a customer thinks, because honestly people will dig through piles on the floor, and when you try to clean it up they just want to go through what you just folded. So if you want to shop in a neat, clean store, maybe you should start preaching to the PIGS that destroy it–oh that would be the customer. You know the customer is not always right!!! I do not care what anyone thinks. We all do our best to make you all happy but we are not beneath you so maybe you should start thinking that way. Most of us are trying to get through school to do better, and we will probably do better than most of you and it serves you right. Try walking in our shoes at Christmas time!!

  11. Amanda,

    I think if you read through all of the posts on this topic, you will see that most of us quickly pointed out that this is a management issue.

    We weren’t criticizing the store staff — we were acknowledging that your company’s leadership needs to pay more attention to the incongruity between their advertising and what’s really happening in the stores.

    And in fact, several of us mentioned the stores being understaffed and how difficult a job that would be.

    But, I hope getting all of that off your chest makes your next work day a little lighter.


  12. bingo says:

    I shop at a very clean and friendly Kohls. They do have a high turn over of help. I assumed they weren’t paid much. The problem I have is never having any carts or bags. There is a big shortage. For the last three years it has been hit or miss for a cart and never at Christmas time. I finally started buying only what I could carry so it’s their loss. I go somewhere else and buy. I have brought this up twice in the store to know avail. There has been times I have givin up my cart to a older person too. Guess what I am saying is, buy some carts. I can fill one. Thank you

  13. Mary says:

    Never use a Kohl’s gift card online! After 3 months of waiting for an order (cancelled by them 3 times), they said they will mail me a gift card. I will go in person and request that noone ever send me a Kohl’s gift card again. They are the worst company to deal with, very incompetent.

  14. debbie says:

    the problem with kohl’s isn’t the employees its corporate too concerned with profits, to hire enough people to take care of the stores, you never see people in departments, thats because they are checking, filling, recovering and trying to take care of customers.

  15. Debbie,

    That was the point of my original post. You can’t just go out and promise an exceptional shopping experience. You have to actually deliver on the promise.

    The employees of Kohls can’t keep the promise if they aren’t given the tools and information they need.


  16. Brianna says:

    I work at Kohl’s and I can say that our job is not only very hard, but very frustrating. How hard is it to hang up a sweater and put it on the rack outside of the fitting room. If any of you have children, don’t you teach them the same thing? Pick up your toys when you’re done. Do the dishes instead of letting them pile up. Don’t you mothers get upset when you spend an hr cleaning and your kids come and destroy it in seconds? Imagine how frustrating it is to have grown working adults leaving this mess in our departments that we take great pride in. If everyone cleaned up their own mess, we would be able to give you so much better service. Sizes would be filled and their would be a wider assortment on the floor instead of in the stockroom because we would actually have time to get it out. Next time you go shopping, think of it as another person’s home, because we take the same pride in it as you do yours.

  17. Eddie says:

    I also work at a kohls and i can agree with what Amanda and Brianna said. People come into the store with the mentality that we are their personal butlers if you will. On a daily basis i hear customers saying “oh dont worry about it, they get paid to pick it up” but in all reality thats not the case. And to say that were underpaid is also not true. Yes i could use a raise but i make a 1.25 over minimum wage in NY so i really cant complain.

  18. Meghan says:

    I have to disagree with all of the negative comments…I think Kohl’s is a great store! Every time I walk into my local Kohl’s I am always greeted with smiling faces and employees are always willing to help me. The parking lot is always full and there are always a ton of people in the store – so I can understand why the store may look messy from time to time. I feel sorry for those of you who have had unfavorable experiences with the stores in the Southwest. The problem must be with the management team within the stores, because I have visited several stores between Maryland and New York and in each store I have had a wonderful experience. I know that in my local store, customer service is their top priority. I also shop and love target,however, I know that Kohl’s will solve any problem I have right then and there…can’t say the same for Target.

    -Enjoyin’ Kohl’s in the Northeast

    P.S. I know that Kohl’s even starts their employees at above minimum wage and offers even their part-time employees benefits

  19. Meghan,

    It just goes to show that the employees at a specific location can make all the difference in the world — good or bad.

    Here in Des Moines, the Kohl’s we have is very clean and the employees run it well. So my personal experience has been much like yours.

    I wonder if Kohl’s is following any of this conversation? It seems to me that they could learn a great deal about their stores, employees and customers.


  20. Lee says:

    I have only visited Kohl’s stores that are neat and clean, I have never seen one as described above. I think it all boils down to the neighborhood environment. Also, Kohl’s only hires part time, so if you know that upfront why apply if you want full time.

  21. Jan Kohlenburger says:

    The real problem isn’t trampling the new guys on the block with envy for offering something special at a handsome price, but but how these pics show how GREEDY the American consumer and guests in our nation shop. Did it have to get so CUT THROAT? Where is the limit? Do we have to have EVERY colour of an item, or do some have to leap onto spousal credit to show this bargain? Do we know how much shopping such as this cost retailers in general? What ever happened to living within reason and within your budget.

    Every morning the floor is made pretty for us shoppers in most departments stores, if dept. stores video taped PORKERS who PLOW through the racks we would also realize these same SWINE plow through many other stores as well. It’s good for business? Well if you want to let the world know that Americans are Greedy SNOBS who know no limit and have absolutely no concern to image an example of conduct to their progeny.

    Where did ellegance go? Get a hold of yourselves the next time you think you have to have what you think you need from what you think you want. Can American women BE on a budget? Maybe they need to travel to another country and get to learn what they could have if they did not live in Civilization with some order.

    Verdict: Go get a full health check up and see how much blubber you have before you buy that item that you think you will lose weight for only because it is on sale.


  22. Amanda says:

    I find all of this quite interesting. I’m a graphic design student in my junior year of college. I used to be a Boston Store employee. My mother(who also was a Boston Store employee when I was little) does a lot of her shopping at Kohl’s.
    My opinion of a store looking shabby like the ones in the pictures shown has to do with that specific store’s management and employees. Working at the Boston Store that I was in, we were expected by our managers and dept. leads to upkeep the store and make sure the shopping experience was great for our customers through out the day. If we didn’t do our job we got reemed for it, and rightfully so considering THAT’S WHAT WE WERE GETTING PAID TO DO. Now the Boston Store, only 20 min. away, was almost always a mess. Anytime I went in that store, the dept. were messy and unorganized, the clothes themselves were in disarray on the racks themselves, and just like some of the pics above, the fitting rooms were a pigsty. This is an example of of how one store under the same brand can get t right while another, not that far away, can get it wrong on so many levels.
    Now to go back to a point I made in the previous paragraph. When the sales floor is a mess; merchandise strewn everywhere, clothes hung wrong, racks not properly merchandised, messy fitting rooms, etc.; rectifying it IS THE JOB OF THE SALES ASSOCIATE ON DUTY IN THAT DEPARTMENT. IT IS WHAT YOU GET PAID TO DO. Now don’t get me wrong, I used to work coats and swimwear and swimwear is not a pretty thing to deal with on the floor or in the fitting rooms. It gets messy fast. I will say that when a customer was nice enough to rehang what they had tried on and put it where it belonged or on a designated rack, or if they picked up the fitting room they used after using it, or even put things back and didn’t migrate merchandise all over the store; I appreciated it but I never expected them to HAVE to do it. As a sales associate you are there to serve the customers and take care of their shopping needs. From the time you clock in to the time you clock out, you are there to do just that. SO STOP BITCHING ABOUT YOUR JOB AND JUST DO IT ALREADY.
    When it comes to Kohl’s merchandise choice and it’s quality, well I think it puts Kohl’s in a fairly average place on a scale of expensive(Bon Ton/ Bloomindale’s) and cheap(Walmart). I know quite a few people that work at Kohl’s Coporate here in the Milwaukee area of WI, and yes, Kohl’s puts a big front on what is really there. Behind the scenes they are very thrown together and with a lack of quality for what they imply to the public. This, I imagine, is a consequence to their rapid expansion across the country. They seem to be adding more stores to their available revenue as an answer to the current crisis of a failing economy.
    As a designer, looking at their company brand and store campaign work, it is also something that is thrown together and left that way because it’s what works for them now and there’s no need for them to go over and beyond that. I think the lack of pride in one’s work that pushes us to go farther and nail things on the first try is what gets Kohl’s here. That and what Kohl’s expects and wants isn’t something that pushes for the best. I think it’s all mediocre and their claim to fame leaves the customers high and dry.
    In all reality, this kind of behavior is natural for such a young corporation that has physically grown as quickly as it has in the past 10 years. That does not make it right but it is the reality of things. With age comes the maturity and wisdom to do better for ones self.

  23. Touchet says:

    Those of you making the comment about just do it its your job, have no idea what you are talking about. Yes, it is our job to do that, but the workload is too much. The store is understaffed. NONE of this has to do with the employee OR the customer. It has to do with the CEO’s who run the business.

    No amount of complaints are going to accomplish anything. If you complain to corporate, all they will do is fire the manager(s) as they will see it is there fault, not corporates for not providing enough labor budget to control periods of high shopping.

    DO NOT talk about how you used to work here or USED to work there. Its not the same anymore. I remember working retail back in the day. We would have TONS of workers on weekend and weekdays during the peak hours. This isn’t the case any longer. Corporate wants you to do the fitting rooms, merchandise, put back returns, change floorplans, put out stock ALL by yourself. It is very common to have ONE person working the whole department during peak times. That means one person for Misses, Juniors, Men’s. ONE person for Home and Kids. Its barely possible to keep up with customers much less do all that is expected of you.

    All I ask is that before you go off ranting about all of this, why don’t you come work for kohls, because its obvious that you have some ideas on how to accomplish all this. Lets see you put your money where your mouth is. We all await your wonderful solutions and hard work.

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