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.
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?