Kohl’s/Amazon: Would You Do The Bidding For Someone Else’s Talent Brand If It Helped You Compete?

Kris Dunn Candidate Pool, Change, Good HR, Recruiting, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working With Recruiters

In case you missed it, Retail – at least of the normal variety – is on life support.

We’re all to blame. That big sucking sound you hear? It’s the gravitational pull of Amazon, giving you two-day one-day delivery you didn’t even know you needed, but now expect. Amazon has a history of innovating, taking the long view of changing your behavior completely, reinvesting profits in the business to keep you coming back to the crack pipe of unlimited choice and immediacy and yes, paying almost no corporate taxes.

What could go wrong?

But I digress. I’m as guilty as anyone, seeing how I recently ordered two sizes of the same jacket from Amazon because I couldn’t be bothered with a single one not fitting and having to repeat the process. So I ordered two, then got the jacket and decided like an impatient aristocrat of the KG3 variety to send both of them back because I didn’t like it. The humanity!

I was an Amazon Aristocrat until I returned the jackets. You know how I returned them?

I went to ****** ******* Kohl’s.

Why Kohl’s? In case you missed it, Kohl’s – one of the thousands of retailers under siege from Amazon – agreed earlier to become a return center for Amazon. More on this WTF decision from Business Insider from late summer:


If you live near a Kohl’s, which has more than 1,150 stores in the contiguous US, returning those Amazon purchases will soon become a lot easier. 

You can now return eligible Amazon items, without a box or label, at a Kohl’s location near you.

The program expands on a 2017 pilot partnership that made these returns available at 100 Kohl’s stores in the Los Angeles, Chicago, and Milwaukee areas. 

Instead of taking the time out of your busy schedule to check off every step in the return process, you can simply go to your nearby Kohl’s to let an associate package and send off your returned items for free. They’ll do it for you regardless of the return season and whether the items are packaged or unpackaged. 

Once you’re in the store, Kohl’s is hoping you’ll linger and do some shopping while you’re there anyway. You can immediately replace the item you just returned, or shop Amazon devices in-store, a product relationship that started in March 2019.


Let that sink in a bit. Kohl’s – a retailer clearly under fire as we remain drunk on the Amazon cocktail, basically said the following:

“You know, you’re killing us. How about we handle your live returns and we’ll hope the foot traffic we get from us gives us a boost.”

The traffic came, but it didn’t necessarily stay. Foot traffic to Kohl’s stores increased nearly 24% in the three weeks after the Amazon returns program launched, compared to the previous three weeks.

Short visits lasting under five minutes increased the most, by roughly 17%, according to the data. But longer visits lasting more than 16 minutes increased about 14%. Maybe there’s hope.

All of this got me thinking – what’s the HR and recruiting version of this play? Let’s say you’re a middling company – good management, good people, but in a non-sexy business without the resources to really blow people away with your employment brand. What’s your version of the Kohl’s play?

It’s tough in a digital world to find the equivalent. The goal would be to increase exposure to the outside world that you’re a really good place to work. You’ve flown under the radar, and damn, if more people just knew about you, you’d have more applicant flow and be viewed as an employer of choice.

How to you make the Kohl’s/Amazon play for your business? I’ve got a couple of ideas:

1–Create meeting space that is heavily branded and widely market/allow the outside community to use that space. This is the obvious play. You do your office space build-out in a way that builds higher-end meeting space than you actually need, and you make it widely available to the outside world.

There’s just one catch – anyone who uses the space has listen to a pitch from one of your managers about your company, and the organization using the space has to include a blurb about your company and a link to your careers site in any communication they do about the meeting in question.

Of course, you’ll need to get out and market your space as available to the right audiences and organizations that can actually provide the candidate flow you want.

2–Go get some special interest groups to use that space. Assuming you can’t arrange to do Amazon returns in your lobby (!), I think the build out of space in #1 is your best play. To build on that thought, when you market that space as available, you’re going to have to lock in on special groups that naturally communicate in their networks and will share your brand.

For me – a dude – the best special interest group that can help amplify your brand is anything female-related. Men are pigs, and we don’t share enough. I’d go long on any group dedicated to females, and I’d market them hard to use my space. I’d also probably try to carve out a niche as a great home for stay-at-home moms returning the workplace.

3–If you’re in a nice area of the suburbs, go find some mega-brands and allow them to use your space for their career fairs and other activity. Admitted, this one feels a bit weird. But if I’m in Atlanta and in the north suburbs, I’m probably trying to get known employers like Coca-Cola and Delta from other areas of town to use my space anytime they want – as long as I can get a little, “welcome to ACME” in at their job fair. Maybe a table as people come in, welcoming them to the ACME and telling them to have fun with the big pants brand.

Will the Kohl’s play related to Amazon returns work? Who knows – but it’s first mover, innovative idea to try and stop the bleeding and find a path forward.

Being agile is important – whether you’re trying to get the shark (Amazon) to let go of your leg, or if you’re simply trying to make your employment brand stand out in a sea of interesting and attractive choices.