Consumer

Sarah Halzack is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She was previously a national retail reporter for the Washington Post.

Can anyone take the troubled department-store shopping model and successfully reimagine it for young, digital-savvy shoppers?  A new leader will soon take a stab at it.

Kohl's Corp. announced on Tuesday that its chief executive of nearly 10 years, Kevin Mansell, will retire in May. Michelle Gass, currently Kohl's chief merchandising and customer officer, has been selected to succeed him in the top job.

This change in the c-suite is good news for Kohl's. Same-store sales have grown in only one of the past three years, suggesting the company needs faster innovation and better execution.

Big Challenges
Despite a "Greatness Agenda" aimed at bolstering the company, Kohl's has struggled to lure shoppers
Source: Bloomberg

And there were other indications Mansell wasn't going to be the one to steer Kohl's in the right direction. He has said the retailer, which has more than 1,000 locations nationwide, doesn't need to close many stores; it just needs to focus on smaller footprints. I don't think that's the right call.

Gass is a smart choice to replace Mansell. She joined Kohl's back in 2013 and has been involved with everything from marketing to e-commerce to merchandising. She has played a key role recently in some of the company's shrewder decisions, such as expanding its portfolio of wellness-related products and luring national brands such as Under Armour Inc. to sell at Kohl's.

And unlike Mansell, who was a company man for 35 years, Gass brings some recent outside perspective to the table. She was previously an executive at Starbucks Corp., a retailer that was digital-minded early and that knows how to mine value from the fierce loyalty of its customers.

In theory, Gass should strike a nice balance. She knows the Kohl's customer well by now, but also comes at its numerous problems with a different set of experiences.

Gass's appointment comes just months after Terry Lundgren, the longtime Macy's Inc. CEO, turned that job over to Jeff Gennette. I don't expect either new leader will take their companies in radically different directions -- meaning, no, we're probably not going to see anything that calls to mind the Ron Johnson era at JC Penney Co. Inc.

Department Store Woes
Both major department stores have seen their stocks lose value so far this year
Source: Bloomberg

But fresh eyes are looking at what ails department stores. Perhaps they'll spot a new remedy. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Sarah Halzack in Washington at shalzack@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net