Looking to get an early edge on the first day of the holiday shopping season, Kohl’s (KSS) said it was offering a Black Friday-style incentive with its Kohl’s Cash program and offering one-day deals to whet shoppers’ appetite as they start heading toward Christmas.
The retailer’s Kohl’s Cash program, a fixture of its marketing and loyalty efforts for years, will play a bigger role in its marketing this holiday season as Kohl’s looks to get back to growth after a weak showing last year. Its efforts include giving shoppers an aggressive $15 in Kohl’s Cash for ever $50 spent on November 1, the first time it offers such a bonus outside of the immediate Thanksgiving period. The announcement comes as rival and now partner Amazon.com (AMZN) kicks off its own holiday season sales on Wednesday.
Kohl’s will also offer its actual Black Friday deals on Monday, November 20 online, a full three days before they are available at its 1,162 stores. In yet another move to suggest it will try not to cede an inch to competitors, Kohl’s said it would open an hour earlier on Thanksgiving this year, letting customers in at 5 p.m. Last year, Kohl’s had opened at 6 p.m. meaning that for an hour, customers could get into a Macy’s (M), J.C. Penney (JCP), or Best Buy (BBY)first.
“They’re big volume days for everyone so how do we become that first stop?” Kohl’s chief merchant and customer officer Michelle Gass told Fortune in an interview at the retailer’s design center in Manhattan.
A big benefit of the Kohl’s Cash program is that it is akin to earning a gift card. So customers can use the “cash,” which is not legal tender that can be used elsewhere, to buy whatever they want and not be subject to exclusions some brands like Under Armour (UAA) or Nike (NKE) impose on retailers use of coupons. The reward typically expires within two weeks adding urgency for the shopper.
Gass, a longtime marketing executive who was instrumental years ago in building up Starbucks’ (SBUX) industry-leading loyalty program, is looking to create a virtuous cycle, or a flywheel as she calls it, aided she hopes by well targeted campaigns between Cyber Monday and Christmas that would help Kohl’s avoid a deep lull many retailers see during that period.
“It’s our responsibility that we create distinct shopping periods,” she said. The goal is to “get them in early, get that Kohl’s Cash in their pocket so they come shopping and then we get them for the whole holiday season.” Gass was recently selected to be Kohl’s next CEO and will take the reins in May.
Kohl’s needs to avoid a repeat of last year’s disappointing holiday quarter, when comparable sales fell 2.2%. It could capitalize on the ongoing problems at rivals like Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s, but will also be going up against an aggressive Target (TGT)and even Walmart (WMT)in some categories. The holiday season will also give Kohl’s its first read on its new, still small partnership with Amazon, wherein ten of its stores will showcase Amazon products and handle returns of Amazon orders. (Kohl’s will be selling the Echo Dot voice-activated digital assistant at all of its stores.)
As it looks to avoid having low prices be the thrust of its messaging, Kohl’s is betting on products from Nike and Under Armour, along with what it says are rejuvenated house brands like Apt. 9 to attract shoppers.