Shelley E. Kohan has been long recognized as a “retail expert,” but over the past five years, she has also become an established “retail influencer,” as she shares her vast experience in the retail industry as a media resource, writer and through her new podcast. Her status as a retail influencer was cemented recently when she was listed as one of the RETHINK Retailers Top 100 Retail Influencers of 2021.
Kohan has been influencing students in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management’s Retail Management Program since January 2020, when she joined the faculty as an adjunct instructor, teaching classes on product development, merchandise buying, and retail buying and planning. She brings to Whitman her experience working as a highly accomplished senior retail executive at places like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Saks 5th Avenue. Kohan is also an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and a frequent contributor to Forbes.com.
“One way I can really help the industry is by teaching and sharing my knowledge with my students. I feel like I’m adding value, and I enjoy giving back,” she says. “The best days are when I get a LinkedIn notification or message from a former student telling me how he or she used the information shared in my class in the real world. That’s an inspiration to me.”
Kohan has made frequent media appearances discussing retail-related issues such as e-commerce, sustainability, the circular economy, racial bias and diversity, equity & inclusion. Her expertise has led her to be interviewed on the “NBC Nightly News,” quoted in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and heard sharing “hot topics” on her weekly podcast on The Robin Report.
“Talking about retail is my favorite thing to do. And, anything that gets the Whitman name out there only serves to increase our retail management program,” she says of some of her recent media appearances on behalf of the School.
As her students and the public hope for a quick return to normalcy after the pandemic, one of the biggest questions she gets asked lately is: “Where is retail headed?”
“While online shopping will continue to grow, people still like the instant gratification and social interaction of shopping,” she explains. “Brick and mortar isn’t dead, but there will be changes. We’ll see retailers editing down their assortments and giving consumers fewer choices. And, we’re almost certain to see a swifter, more nimble supply chain; near-sourcing, and smaller format stores—even from big retailers like Target and Walmart.”
According to Kohan, many of the big retail anchor stores that closed during COVID-19 were probably headed towards bankruptcy anyway; the pandemic just accelerated the problem. On the flip side, the events of the past year allowed some retailers to restructure for the better. For example, legacy retailers that were slow to adopt technology were able to learn a lot from the nimble, niche retail brands that moved so quickly using digital tools to remain viable.
One thing that she is sure will remain is the technology that ramped up during the pandemic. “Customers have gotten used to the ease and convenience of curbside pick-up, self-check out and letting Alexa order groceries for you. And, Amazon is already testing inside the door delivery,” she says. “Maybe one day soon, there will be a way Alexa can put your groceries away for you, too!”