E-Commerce May Have Hurt Department Stores, But Tech Also can help

By Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with the CTO of Kohl’s on how online shopping is changing customers’ expectations and how technology that’s caused problems for retailers can also help solve them.


The rise of online shopping hasn’t been kind to traditional department stores. It’s Kohl’s Chief Technology Officer Ratnakar Lavu’s job to bring the retailer up to speed with how its customers shop today.

Lavu worked in e-commerce at Macy’s and was chief technology officer at Redbox Automated Retail before joining Kohl’s in 2011.

Today, he oversees an innovation team that’s working on bringing the online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences closer together, an initiative that involves employees at Kohl’s Menomonee Falls, Wis., headquarters and at the company’s digital center in Silicon Valley.

At the National Retail Federation’s trade show in New York, Lavu sat down with the Chicago Tribune to talk about how online shopping is changing customers’ expectations, why you’ll probably see Kohl’s get into chatbots but not virtual reality (at least not yet), and how technology that’s caused problems for retailers can also help solve them.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Bringing the department store to the 21st century sounds like a tall order.

A: It is, but one great thing about Kohl’s is we’re determined to actually transform ourselves. We understand what we need to do, it’s not like it’s rocket science. We just need to continue to innovate and we have laid a great foundation to be able to do that.

Q: So what do you need to do?

A: We know that we have to elevate our experiences. With our digital businesses, we’ve done a lot of work over the last three to five years. We need to take that into the store. The other piece of this is we also need to transform how we do business. We need a lot more speed and agility in terms of what products to buy, how we buy them, how do we get them into the store and make them hyperlocal. And from a marketing standpoint, once we get the product there, how do we personalize the experience in terms of the message for the customer? That’s what the customer is expecting.

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