Is JCPenny your favorite store?

Just a few thoughts, randomly shared.

A couple weeks ago I was in the Twin Cities for a wedding and needed to get a couple of last-minute clothing items for three of my kids.  After unsuccessful trips to a handful of stores I found myself at the JC Penny at Rosedale Mall. Although I hadn’t been in one in years, I had heard about some of the changes that were being made.  Not only did we receive fantastic service in the children’s department,  I found a vest for myself. This is noteworthy because not only was I not shopping for a vest, but I have never owned a vest. Surprisingly, it suited me well.  At least that’s what my wife said 🙂 Although the vest wasn’t on sale, I didn’t feel like the retail price was inflated. I was happy to pay the price on the tag.  The store still seemed a little dated, but I could tell they were headed in the right direction.  I know major change takes time.

Fast forward 2 weeks.

I was recounting this experience and decided to do a bit of research.

I was just watching Ron Johnson’s presentation to JCP investors a year ago announcing his bold new plan for reinventing Penny’s. I didn’t intend to watch the whole thing, but he was so compelling, I really just couldn’t stop. I wouldn’t even begin to review the 90 minute presentation, but a handful of ideas jumped out at me.  His main contention was that, among other things, JCP (and department stores as a whole) has been abusing their customers with their dishonest pricing strategy and a preponderance of  promotions and that customers see right through it all.  A major change was needed.  Sure, he had charts of data proving his points (a necessary detail for investors), but at the heart of his message was the customer experience . Here are a few quotes…

“the customer knows the right price”

“to think you can fool a customer is just crazy”

“every time we [discount], we’re not discounting our product; we’re discounting our brand”

“if you don’t trust your customer, that’s a major gap before you even get her in the door”

I don’t know if I entirely agree with his pricing/promotion premise for the industry, but his statements about trusting customers is spot on. Other retailers such as Kohl’s have been very successful with the promotional model without sacrificing the customer relationship. I think JCP just did it poorly.  While every retailer might not need to go to the extremes Johnson lays out for Penny’s, I think for them, it’s probably the right move; they’ve eroded a lot of trust.

It worked on me.

He also mentioned one other goal. Simple, but lofty – “we want to be your favorite store.”

I love the use of the word favorite.

It’s emotional. It’s exclusive.  It’s relational. It’s familiar. It’s experiential.

It’s personal.

This is very much a long term strategy (4 years as planned), as all customer experience driven initiatives are. Unfortunately, wall street judges companies by short term performance.  So a year later, with their stock price half of what it was a year ago and revenues expected to be down about 28%, Johnson is going to be taking some heat.  He’s either going to shift the strategy to placate shareholders, or he’ll double down and remind investors that the yellow brick road of transformation leads through a valley before reaching the next peak.

I hope he does the latter.

On this one-year anniversary, what has been your experience at JCPenny?

Is it now your favorite store?


The Return Process and Customer Loyalty

Yesterday, two juxtaposed shopping experiences at Bayshore Mall brought to light the effect of a return process on the customer experience. The result was perhaps a little surprising.

Rewind to Black Friday. My wife and I were looking for a pair of semi-dressy, medium heeled, black leather boots for her to wear with a new dress. She wasn’t wearing the dress while shopping, so we were doing our best to imagine what the boots would look like with the  dress. We found a a nice pair on sale for around $100 at Boston Store and debated our purchase. Ultimately, we decided we liked them enough to warrant taking them home to see how they worked with the dress. If they didn’t work, we’d just bring them back. The buying experience was rather chaotic due to being Black Friday, but with our expectations lowered, we were generally satisfied with the experience.  As a side note, we also liked a pair of boots just down the hall at Ma Jolie, but knowing their “exchange only” no return policy, we didn’t even bother taking them home.

The boots didn’t work with the dress. The dreaded return was imminent.

With a potential need for the boots on the horizon, we decided to embark on the return process yesterday—a mere two days after purchase (surely a personal best).  Although I knew I had it somewhere, I wasn’t able to easily locate the receipt. Honestly, I didn’t try too hard to find it.  I figured a nice, mid-scale department store like Boston Store would surely have the ability to retrieve my purchase info with my credit card.  Being in return mode, we also grabbed three other items that had been gathering dust to go back to Kohl’s.

I arrived at the Boston Store shoe counter with assumptions and boots, but no receipt in hand. I was informed that without a receipt I could only exchange the boots or receive a store credit for the lowest sale price—a common practice in days gone by, but in the current retail environment, an unexpected response.  I asked if there was some way for them to look up my transaction with my credit card.  “No, I’m sorry, sir. We need a receipt” came the reply. After pausing for a moment to think, I decided to hang on to the boots and see how Anna was coming in  quest for a replacement.  After a cursory tour of their very large selection, a suitable replacement was not apparent. By this point I had determined that since we wouldn’t need to exchange them, and that I really didn’t want a store credit, that I would go home and make a concerted effort to find the receipt.  After all, I hadn’t really looked that hard. Excepting the items that came with us, we left empty-handed.

On to stop two, returns next door at Kohl’s.

Three items were to be returned.  One had a receipt; a hat purchased on clearance with a gift card a couple weeks prior.  Two were sans receipt; a boy’s shirt purchased with a gift card about 2 months prior, and pair of girls winter boots purchased with a debit card about 2 weeks prior. The receipted return was a slam dunk. Cash in hand.  Most stores could get that one right.  For the non-receipted boots, the associate asked for the credit card that was used to purchase them, and few keystrokes later she was handing us cash back (it was a debit transaction).  The only part of that return experience that I could not have predicted was the boy’s shirt.  I don’t often use gift cards there. With no credit card to track back to, and no receipt, I thought I would surely get a very little in return as a store credit.  The associate asked when I purchased it and how much I paid; “I don’t know exactly. Probably a couple months back, and it was around twenty bucks.” The price tag read $34. She scanned the tag and replied, “Does $25.39 sound about right?” It rung a bell. “Sure, that works.” After viewing my driver’s license, she handed me a thin plastic card labeled Merchandise Credit with the credit amount written in sharpie on the back. With about $75 in credit and cash in hand, we proceeded to shop.  Guess what? We found boots for Anna. We also found a really cute pair of boots for my daughter (not a replacement for the returned ones) and some Christmas ornaments totaling just over $100. Remembering that I had a coupon at home, I left Anna at the store, went home, and picked up my 15% off coupon. While there I took a quick peek in my coat pocket and found the Boston Store receipt for the boots. I returned to Kohl’s and left having spent about $90. I returned to Boston Store, returned the boots, and left having realized the impact of process on the customer experience

So, who has a bad process and who has our money?

As a regular Kohl’s customer, I have become accustomed to returning items without a receipt. I just bring my item to the customer service desk, show them the credit card that I used to purchase the item, and they pull up the transaction information based on the credit card that was used. It’s really a pretty simple concept to be able to track transactions back to credit cards; why don’t more retailers do this?

Granted, Kohl’s takes this idea one step further with a very generous, no hassle return policy. I’ll admit, I return things there more often there than I do anywhere else. Why? because I buy more. It’s my first stop every time I need something they might carry. More often than not, I find what I need and keep it; however, I know that when I buy something that doesn’t fit my needs when I get home, I won’t have any trouble bringing it back….when I get around to it … 32 days later. You see, we are terrible about returns, as I’m guessing you are. Most people are. This weakness is exactly what other merchants exploit to their advantage. But at what cost?

So, Boston Store, I can certainly understand needing proof of purchase.  I even understand limitations on returns.  I understand that modernizing Bon-Ton’s expansive corporate POS system to allow transaction data to be recalled by CC could be a large and expensive endeavor. I understand that you have your process and policies for a reason.  I can understand all these things, . . . and shop at Kohl’s.


BIG Milwaukee Tweetup | Getting started with Twitter

This is a reprint of an article I wrote nearly a year and a half ago (4/23/2010) as a review about my experience at my very first tweetup.  I’ve come along way on twitter since then, and that event was a huge part of it.  Thanks Milwaukee for welcoming me. You’ve changed my life. A few of the tweeps mentioned below have faded off, but some have become good friends. I have edited a couple of minor details (twitter handle changes), but for the most part, it’s as I wrote it then. In a follow-up post (or perhaps a series), I’ll write about the journey since.

In short,  tweetups turn your tweeps into your peeps.  Go.

Now for the back-story.

As we have recently begun to use Twitter (@annamayerphoto and @brian_mayer) as an active part of our marketing strategy, I have been seeking out the best methods for taking advantage of this somewhat daunting and unruly beast. We got a great boost with @annamayerphoto being an official tweeter for the Real Simple 10th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago. However, as a service business directed at a local clientele, we really wanted to expand our twitter presence locally. To do that, we would have to find the right people to follow and get as many targeted followers as we could.  I honestly didn’t have a clue on how to get started, but I’ll explain my approach.

First, I spent a day searching Twitter for #Milwaukee and #mke and looking through profiles and tweets to find those with relevant relationships.  I followed some prominent tweeters, but I also looked for users that had a lower number of followers and weren’t following too many themselves. I hoped that our follows, replies, and mentions might be more noticeable.

Second, I used the “nearby tweets” function of the Tweetie iPhone app to find people and businesses who were actually in our immediate area. I found a few to be a great springboard, so I thought I’d show a little love:

@StoneCreekSteve @DeannaInnis @Mserita @bizatty @ShopWFB @brennanMKE @erinulicki

I used this base as a place to look and see who others were following locally.  Through this process, I came upon a tweet promoting the BIG #MilwaukeeTweetup.  Of course, everyone knows that if “BIG” is in the title, it must be big, right?  I thought, “Hey that might be cool,” but really had no idea.  I followed the host @tweetupgirls to track the event action.  There seemed to be an indication that it might be worth the time invested, so I took a gamble and RSVP’d.

BIG #MilwaukeeTweetup: Reviewed by a rookie

I showed up to Swig (@swigmilwaukee) a hip joint in Milwaukee’s Third Ward and found the group easily. I went upstairs and was immediately welcomed by one of the @tweetupgirls Jeanette (@j_sosh) and one of the sponsors @robertjames1 (First Priority Printing in Mequon).   Keep in mind that I was not only a newbie to tweetups, but was also to this type of networking.  I was able to ask Jeanette and Rob about how it worked, proper protocol, etc . . . and they were both very helpful.  It was definitely not an insiders’ club. I was given a name badge that included my name and Twitter handle on a lanyard. I was also given a canvas bag with some info from the sponsors.

While I’m not one to shy away from talking to total strangers, I was very hungry so I made a bee-line to the food.  Swig provided the food as a sponsor of the event and it was fantastic!  I wish I could have eaten more, and I will definitely be back for a meal.  The shrimp in particular was outstanding.  There was a cash bar with cocktails, beer, and wine reasonably priced at $3-6 as well as complimentary soft drinks. However, wanting to keep my hands free, I didn’t take advantage of that until later.

The room was moderately lit, relatively crowded and loud with about 100 attendees.  Conversations were bar-like in their volume.  As I began milling around, I found that attendees were very friendly, open and welcoming.  I tried to tweet @ mentions as I met people in order to continue contact beyond the event. I found that to be a bit of a distraction and began to simply take a photo of the person’s name tag with my phone’s camera. However, my phone battery was running low so I  had to resort to the low tech method of  writing stuff down.  How old school is that?

Over the course of the next few hours, I talked to 15-20 people. They varied from web developers and social media mavens to business owners and broadcast professionals.  It truly was an A-list of Milwaukee’s Twitter presence.  Not only did I feel the evening was worth the time, I think it will be a moment I look back on as an important one in the building of our business network in Milwaukee.

What would I do differently next time?

  • Have business cards with our Twitter handles @annamayerphoto and @brian_mayer on them
  • Make sure my phone was properly charged, duh!
  • Eat something before I came–the food was great but it was a distraction.

Now, I don’t think just any tweetup would bring the same level of success, but based on my experience, I would say that it’s definitely worth your time.  Furthermore, I would strongly recommend that any Milwaukee business who is serious about using Twitter as part of their marketing strategy to attend any tweetup hosted by the @tweetupgirls.  I’ve heard that the next one is on June 3. I’ll be there in my signature grey fedora. Feel free to find me and introduce yourself.

Here’s just a few of my new peeps

@triveraguy: Thanks for introducing me to Mixero.  I love it!
@triveragirl: Great meeting you.  Thanks for newbie help!
@jims1973: Awesome guy. Checkout his
@katiefelten: Katie runs (@mkelive )[EDIT: Katie has moved on from MKELive to be the Community Manager at Hashable.]
@tcmeister: His twit bio rocks.  He’s at Net Solutions Group.
@philgerb: He is an awesome, down to earth twitteroligist.