"We have not done our job," Kohl's CEO Michelle Gass said last year
of the department store's history with Millennial shoppers.
For Gass, who stepped into the top job at Kohl's a year ago
, winning younger customers remains a key priority as she
tries to make the 57-year-old retailer more relevant for a new generation of shoppers.
On-the-go Millennials don't want to spend time roaming around big-box retail stores searching for the right size and style, analysts and Kohl's executives say. They mix different brands and dress to fleeting fashion trends, which are often driven by social-media influencers. Younger shoppers also demand exciting store experiences, and quick and easy solutions for their wardrobe challenges.
"People are time-starved," Kohl's chief merchandising officer Doug Howe said in an interview. Shoppers in focus groups told Kohl's that they struggled to find what they wanted when shopping its nearly 90,000 square-foot stores and had trouble matching clothes together spread out across the stores. Plus, "Millennial customers don't buy one brand head to toe," he said.
Last year, Kohl's (KSS)
created a "Millennial Initiative" team to develop ideas for experiences in stores and online that might attract younger customers.
The task force's biggest bet yet: A Pinterest-like "outfit bar" at stores that lets women shop by "look" for work and social occasions — in one place.
Kohl's is starting slow, rolling out the outfit bars near the entrance of 50 stores in Philadelphia and Chicago this spring. But executives' expectations for the initiative are high. "We haven't made, historically, this bold of a move," Howe said.
'Life is short. Get the outfit.'
CNN Business got an exclusive visit to the first outfit bar in Havertown, Pennsylvania, a suburb outside Philadelphia, the day it opened in late April.
In the 600-square-foot section, Kohl's pulls together a curated mix of its national brands like Levi (LEVI)
, Nike (NKE)
and Champion, as well as a few of its in-house clothing lines.
The outfit bar gets prime real estate: The section is one of the first things customers see when they enter the store.
A foldable floor sign at the front of the section introduces customers to the new concept: "The outfit bar. Find your new favorite look." Toward the ceiling in the back of the section, lit-up white letters read, "Life is short. Get the outfit," set against a neon green grass sign. It all seems tailor-made for Instagram.
In the middle of the open section, three mannequins display varied styles: a sporty outfit, a sleek jumpsuit and blouse-and-skirt basics. PopSugar pants and tops and Champion jackets hang on side racks, while Levi's jeans are laid out on a table.