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Let's Talk About Kohl's

Ethan Chernofsky
January 26, 2022
Let's Talk About Kohl's

Few companies in retail have been under a more intense spotlight of late than Kohl’s. From potential takeovers to splitting its online and offline businesses, the attention on the department leader has only increased in recent weeks. 

So where does the company’s physical retail performance stand and how is it trending?

A Dulled Recovery

Kohl’s had seen a steady and significant recovery throughout the first half of 2021 with the year-over-two-year (Yo2Y) visit gap declining from 18.8% in February to just 5.7% in July. Traffic was returning at a consistent pace and the retailer seemed poised to come near or even surpass 2019 numbers. 

Yet, by August, the visit gap had increased to 15.1%. And while October did see the visit gap at just 7.6%, the holiday period saw visits down 21.1% and 16.4% in November and December respectively. But though these numbers were certainly disappointing, they tell only a small part of the Kohl’s story.

Visits Trending Up?

Weekly visits from the start of October compared to the equivalent weeks in 2019 shows a far more nuanced story. Visits in the early stages of the holiday period were fairly steady before comparisons to Black Friday 2019 caused visits to decline dramatically. Much of this centered around the wider retail declines on Black Friday in 2021 and the loss of Thanksgiving as a day for shopping. 

As a result, from the week beginning November 22nd, the Yo2Y visit gap began to steadily shrink throughout December and into January – where the week of January 3rd saw visits down just 9.6%. So while the declines may be disappointing, it’s clear that the unique confluence of 2021 retail challenges – namely COVID, supply chain, and labor shortages – had a significant impact on limiting Kohl’s visit recovery.

Strategic Decisions Paying Off

It’s also worth noting the clear payoff the brand is seeing in the major strategic decision to partner with Sephora. Visits to Kohl’s locations with Sephora store-in-stores have consistently outperformed those without. Looking at the weeks beginning January 3rd and 10th, visits to Kohl’s locations with Sephora store-in-stores saw visits down just 5.7% and 4.9%, compared to 10.5% and 15.7% for those without.

And equally critical is remembering that Kohl’s was performing incredibly well in 2019 and 2020 prior to the pandemic. The retailer saw monthly year over year visit growth from June 2019 through February 2020, with the first two months of 2020 seeing visit jumps of 12.2% and 14.9%, respectively. This provides important context for the brand’s recent foot traffic performance, and the difficult standard that current visits are being put up against.

The Takeaway

Many factors will inform the ultimate business decisions regarding the future of Kohl’s, and those will go far beyond the offline performance of Kohl’s locations. However, it is critical to properly contextualize Kohl’s offline performance of late – and the result of this analysis should lead to quite a bit of optimism.

First, the retailer was seeing significant strength heading into the pandemic, meaning that our last ‘normal’ comparison was to a period when the company was well-positioned. This matters not only because Kohl’s was doing very well as recently as 2020, but also because current metrics – likely heavily impacted by COVID and other challenges – are being compared to a very strong period. 

Second, the major strategic decisions the brand has made – namely the partnership with Sephora – look to be paying off and driving significant visit strength. This speaks not only to the strong vision the company has for its retail future but also to the keen understanding of its market and how to better serve this audience.

Third, visits have already been trending back to a better place, even amid the uniquely challenging environment retail is currently facing.

The resulting conclusion? The likelihood of a continued recovery for Kohl’s offline visits is significant, and the current challenges may be more a distraction from the true brick-and-mortar trajectory than a sign of where performance is truly heading.

How will Kohl’s perform as 2022 carries on? 

Visit to find out.

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