The Ratings Game: Kohl’s says it added 2 million new customers in 2020 due to the Amazon returns program

United States

Kohl’s Corp. KSS, +0.99% attributes the acquisition of two million new customers in 2020 to its returns program with Inc. AMZN, -0.45%

Kohl’s launched the program with a pilot in September 2017, and it has grown since then. Shoppers can return unwanted Amazon purchases at any Kohl’s store.

“[I]t continues to be a key contributor to driving traffic and introducing new customers to Kohl’s,” said Chief Executive Michelle Gass during the company’s Tuesday earnings call, according to a FactSet transcript.

“We especially saw this with the acceleration of post-holiday traffic in January. In 2020, we can attribute at least two million new, unique customers shopping at Kohl’s as a result of the Amazon Returns program, a third of which are millennials. And while the details of the partnership are confidential, we continue to see that this is accretive to both sales and profit,” she said.

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Kohl’s reported fourth-quarter earnings and sales earlier Tuesday that beat expectations.

The department store retailer is focused on bringing notable labels to its racks and shelves, name-dropping a number of brands currently in stock and coming in the near future.

Calvin Klein underwear and loungewear will be heading to 600 stores and the e-commerce site in the fall.

Outdoor gear from Eddie Bauer is launching at 500 stores and online.

The company’s own athleisure brand FLX will launch this month for men and women.

And others including Nike NKE, -0.70%, Under Armour UA, +0.21% UAA, +0.75%, Hanesbrands Inc.’s HBI, -0.08% Champion label and Nine West were highlighted.

Kohl’s has been focused on the merchandise lineup as part of the company’s turnaround. Last May, the company announced that it would discontinue eight brands, and has since turned its attention to growing the women’s and active wear businesses, among other areas.

Also coming this year is the partnership with beauty retailer Sephora, which Gass called “a game changer” on the call.

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“Not only will it drive significant beauty sales growth at an accretive margin, it will also have a halo effect across the entire store and drive sales in our other categories, including positively impacting our women’s business,” she said.

Sephora items will launch on the website on August 1 with the store rollout taking place that month. Sephora’s 2,500-square-foot shops will be in 200 stores this year, with 850 planned by 2023.

Analysts have grown increasingly upbeat about Kohl’s prospects.

“We like Kohl’s continued focus on active, beauty, stores as hubs, and soft home assortments combined with the company’s compelling loyalty program and more agile inventory management,” wrote Cowen analysts led by Oliver Chen.

Cowen rates Kohl’s stock as outperform with a $ 65 price target.

“The market is optimistic about reopening and likely continues to see an attractive
bull case,” wrote UBS analysts led by Jay Sole.

“This should keep bulls engaged in the stock, as opposed to seeing ‘the end of the story’ and wanting to take profits.”

UBS rates Kohl’s shares as neutral with a $ 50 price target.

Even with all the positive news, Kohl’s is still facing challenges from a group of activist investors who say “poor retail execution” is hurting the company.

Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData, says it “completely rejects the argument that Kohl’s is a badly run business.” However, GlobalData does raise the question of whether Kohl’s is doing enough to grow.

“The growth projections and the sales deterioration raise the question of whether Kohl’s plans are ambitious or transformational enough,” he wrote.

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“The firm has been proactive and diligent in its activities and has sought sensible avenues for growth such as developing a bigger activewear business, investing in systems to bolster omnichannel, and developing partnerships with Amazon and more lately Sephora… That said, we think Kohl’s needs to move faster, especially in terms of increasing the relevance of its stores.”

Kohl’s stock is up 1.3% in Tuesday trading, and is up more than 50% for the past year.

The benchmark S&P 500 index SPX, -0.23% has gained 26.2% over the last 12 months.