Kohl’s aims to boost customer engagement with mobile devices and apps as Walgreen’s did under Sona Chawla’s leadership.

Kohl’s Corp. has hired Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s e-commerce chief, Sona Chawla, to its newly created position of chief operating officer, as the department store aims to increase its customer engagement via apps, e-commerce and mobile devices.

Kohl’s, No. 22 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, announced Chawla’s hire Tuesday. Chawla, who will start Nov. 30, will oversee e-commerce strategy, information and digital technology, planning and operations, and logistics and supply chain network, in addition to store operations and store construction and design, Kohl’s said.

Kohl’s, which does not break out quarterly e-commerce sales, last week reported third-quarter earnings, and for the first nine months of the year, net revenue was $12.82 billion, up 1.2% from $12.67 billion during the same time last year. E-commerce sales for 2014 were $2.17 billion, up 23.3% from $1.76 billion in 2013, according to Top500Guide.com data. The company in September relaunched its mobile commerce site with an eye toward making it easier for on-the-go shoppers to buy online.

“Kohl’s want its apps, e-commerce and mobile strategy to help differentiate itself competitively and be seen as a thought leader in the digital space,” says Forrester Research analyst Brendan Witcher.

“Retailers like Kohl’s are asking themselves, ‘How can we offer something new?’” he says. “When Neiman Marcus introduces Snap. Find. Shop feature, they are asking, ‘Why didn’t we do that? We need to bring in the kind of talent that can create that level of creativity.’”


CEO and president Kevin Mansell said of Chawla’s hire, “We saw an enormous opportunity to create something truly unique in retail—a leader who has oversight for the full omnichannel experience. When stores, online and digital teams are not just compatible but truly integrated, new thinking and new ways of delivering a seamless customer experience emerge.”

Chawla’s hiring also coincides with Kohl’s push to target female customers as parents shopping for their families and as women looking for fashion and workplace apparel.

But challenges are ahead for Chawla and Kohl’s, Abe Garver, M&A adviser with BG Strategic, says. “Walgreen’s, where Sona comes from most recently, is a $90.3 billion dollar company, while Kohl’s is 10x smaller ($8.6 billion). I understand Kohl’s may be fast-tracking Sona to take over the CEO position, and I would bet on her to turn the e-commerce business around. My concern is that the deck is very stacked against her given her new employer has $5.1 billion of debt on the balance sheet,” Garver says.

As Walgreen’s president of digital and chief marketing officer, Chawla led a team responsible for increasing such customer conveniences as refilling prescriptions in seconds, printing photos from smartphones directly to stores, linking its loyalty program with Apple Pay, and launching digital health coaching and health apps. Walgreen is No. 44 in the 2015 Top 500 with an Internet Retailer-estimated $1.13 billion in web sales in 2014, up 15.4% from $975.0 million in 2013, Top 500 data shows.

Prior to joining Walgreens, Chawla was vice president of global online business at Dell Inc.; executive vice president of online sales, service and marketing at Wells Fargo’s Internet Services Group and worked at Andersen Consulting and Mitchell Madison Group.