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Lessons From JCP

Recent business articles have covered the downward spiral of J.C Penney. A once dominant force in retail and consumer goods has been slipping in market share for several years. Thinking that they needed fresh direction they hired Ron Johnson, the former Senior VP in charge of retail operations with Apple. Applying the skills that worked for his former employer, he began by not only rebranding Penney’s but completely changed their marketing strategy and product lines.

Rather than a calendar full of sales events (as Penney customers had grown accustomed to), they began offering everyday low prices instead. Suddenly, the re-branded JCP found itself not only needing to attract new customers, but also maintaining the existing ones. At the end of Johnson’s disastrous experiment, JCP brought back their previous CEO whom he had originally replaced.

It seems that in spite of new branding, marketing and product strategies designed to attract younger buyers while retaining existing ones, nothing seemed to work. Why is this?

Twenty five years ago, when I was married to a JCP manager, she often fretted over how her company was making a grave mistake by having any excuse for a sale which was going to eventually come home to roost.
“They are setting themselves up to fail”, she would say, “because they are training the customers not to bother shopping until there is a sale.” “Nordstrom’s doesn’t do this she continued; and if they do, they won’t do it like this!” “Worst yet she added, with so many sales they are cheapening their brand.”

I could not have agreed with her more. As a result, I too became the kind of customer she dreaded because I never purchased anything until they had a sale. To me, the next nail was when they moved Christmas creep to the actual edge of summer! That was a big turn off and showed me a sort of desperation on their part.

Finally, I grew tired of not having adequate help. I call it the Sears – a –fying of Penney’s. No, help no buy. Simple as that JCP.
Too bad because many shoppers used to like them a lot!

So, what can be learned from this?

One, don’t offer customers something you cannot safely take away. Two, understand the difference between value shoppers and bottom feeders. Bottom feeders are never loyal, value shoppers are.
Three, if you’re going to get people in your store, then make sure you have an adequate trained staff to take care of them so they do have a great shopping experience and want to return.

Don’t play games with gimmicks. Be straight with your shoppers and either give them a price break without a gimmick or forget it.
Don’t appear to be desperate or greedy. This Christmas creep business annoys a lot of people. And finally, do a better job at finding out what your customers really want instead of thinking that you know what they want.