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Kohl’s is working on a gradual mobile transformation, says exec

NEW YORK — While Amazon may have the luxury of diving straight into ambitious retail projects, Kohl’s is focusing on slow but continuous innovations of its retail experience, according to an executive from the company.

Speaking at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, the executive from Kohl’s spoke about some of the mobile technologies that the company is using to transform its retail experience, as well as the challenges that traditional retailers face. Those changes need to be slow and steady to maintain stability in a changing mobile world.

“The question is about whether that experience is right for Kohl’s,” said Ratnakar Lavu, chief technology officer at Kohl’s. “We want to be customer centric.

“What does our customer actually want? Do we want to take on a four year project to transform the store? No I don’t think so.

“But we want to understand the experience and continually transform.”

Slow roll
While many exciting mobile innovations are coming out of online retailers, particularly the behemoth Amazon, traditional retailers need to be a bit more careful in how they choose to implement their mobile innovations in order toa void instability and losses.

With Amazon’s solid foundation, the online retailer has the luxury of spending years developing concepts such as its new Amazon Go stores, which let users pay through their phones and then just grab products off the shelves and walk out with them.

Mr. Lavu does not believe that traditional retailers such as Kohl’s have that luxury.

Instead, Kohl’s if focusing on smaller mobile changes first. For example, the company is working on making its mobile application a strong companion to the check out process so that consumers can purchase items in-store more easily.

“For customers, when they come in, one of the biggest issues is the ability to make payments, scan coupons, scan loyalty card,” Mr. Lavu said. “It’s a lot of time in the POS.

“Using our app, they scan a QR code from their phone and it does all the coupons and loyalty card and payment in one scan.”

Mobile change
Another aspect of the retail world that Kohl’s is working on is the ability for consumers to find what they are looking for in a physical store.

This is an area in which mobile can and has been of particular use. Mobile provides a constant digital companion by which retailers can help consumers find exactly what they are looking for.

This is an issue of particular interest to apparel retailers such as Kohl’s.

“Apparel is a lot more complicated,” Mr. Lavu said. “Size, color, combination. Its complicated.

“We are upgrading the Wi-fi in all our stores, which will help us create a granular system that helps customers navigate the store.

Chatbots and mobile payments are also on the menu, but Kohl’s is taking a slow approach with them as well.

Chatbots will remain mainly as a replacement for customer service calls first, before moving into an commercial role, while mobile payments will remain in-house to preserve Kohl’s ability to keep its customers informed on the many discounts and loyalty codes that the brand uses.

“We wont do a radical transformation, but we will do a slow gradual change,” Mr. Lavu said. “But within two years or so, I hope you’ll be able to notice the difference.”