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Kohl’s will now return your Amazon packages for free

The retailer also sells Amazon products, like the Echo and Fire tablets. (John Raoux/AP)

By Hannah Denham

Hannah Denham

Business reporter

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July 9 at 9:35 AM

Have a package you need shipped back to Amazon? Kohl’s will do it for you — for free.

The initiative is now available in all its 1,150-plus stores across the United States. All customers have to do is bring their eligible Amazon returns to their local Kohl’s, no box or label needed. The Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based retailer will pack it up and ship it back, without cost. (Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.)

This comes a week before Amazon’s Prime Day, when other retailers like Target and Walmart run their own deals at the same time and compete for traffic. But Kohl’s is using its brick-and-mortar base and embracing Amazon in a unique way. The retailer also already carries Amazon products in at least 200 of its locations, such as the Echo, Echo Dot and Fire tablets.

“Our top strategic priority is driving traffic, and this transformational program does just that,” said Kohl’s chief executive, Michelle Gass, in a news release. “It drives customers into our stores, and we are expecting millions to benefit from this service.”

Mark Cohen, a retail studies professor at Columbia Business School, said the program is a great idea for Amazon to establish more brick-and-mortar contact. But for Kohl’s, he says, after surviving the decline of competitors like Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s, it’s just an attempt to stay above water.

[Can Macy’s and J.C. Penney overcome ‘a legacy of bad decisions’?]

“I would see Amazon to Kohl’s as analogous of a Trojan horse,” he said, comparing it to Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods. “This feels like another lopsided deal that Amazon has done.”

But retail analyst Neil Saunders is hopeful that the strategy could work to bring in more millennial customers who already use Amazon, but may have missed the generational attachment to physical shopping experiences like at Kohl’s.

“Amazon is such an enormous force already in retail and there are so many places you can return things too, even if it’s just the local post office,” Saunders said. “But I think Kohl’s does need to drive more customers into the store.”

The program was piloted starting in 2017 in 100 stores in Chicago, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, and at the time chief administrative officer Richard Schepp called the program a strategy for the two companies to leverage each other’s strength.

[J.C. Penney and Kohl’s have failed their most loyal customers: Middle-aged moms]

Kohl’s first-quarter earnings for 2019, released in May, showed a little more than $4 billion in revenue, down almost 3 percent from a year ago, with diluted earnings per share of $. 38. In a conference call, Gass said she expects returns programs and other brand expansions to drive sales in the second half of the year.