JCP–Back to the Future??

In the life cycle of any retail brand there are watershed events that provide a venue for re-invention.  In the case of JC Penney’s, the venerable retailer is in the midst of one such opportunity.  Having recently fired CEO, Ron Johnson after the unsuccessful re-branding and merchandising campaign, JCP has predictably launched a “recovery campaign”, complete with an opening mea culpa and a plea for their shoppers to return.

We can debate the merits of such a strategy but on the surface it would seem to make sense to admit the sins of the past and ask for forgiveness, at least as an initial message.   The first salvo of messages in this recovery campaign has done just that.  But that’s the easy part of the process.  Now on to the task of winning back old shoppers and bringing in new ones.  But unless I have missed my guess on this one, JCP, new CEO, (which just happens to be the CEO that was fired in favor of Ron Johnson), will be tempted to immediately get back to being the Penney’s of old.

If that is true, all bets on a successful and sustainable recovery are off.

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Clearly, the merchandising schema of days-gone-by of heaving “”percentage off” discounts, one day sales and day part sales should be considered in the mix of marketing elements that Penney’s uses to re-engage shoppers.  But if returning to the ways of the old is both the alpha and the omega of their strategy, they will be missing out on important opportunities.

  • First, re-invention of the retail brand creates an opportunity to embrace new merchandising elements whether they be new on-line services and policies,  new store-with-a store offerings, new co-branding relationships with famous brands.  “Something New”  not only can lure some of the old guard back through the door, but can serve to attract, new younger shoppers, who were not seemingly enthralled with the Penney’s of the past.   In short, big changes and big announcements, done thoughtfully,  provide real reasons for shoppers to return.
  • Secondly, and equally as important, this is an opportunity to re-invent the culture of the company, from the sales associates on the floor up through the corporate ranks. Becoming truly shopper-driven remains a marketing position opportunity that Penney’s cans cease, albeit not an easily achieved and sustained.  Solicit and listen to shoppers every step of the way.  Make investments into products and services that shoppers want and competitors are not providing.

Putting a finer point on the matter, Penney’s can either chose a path to recovery, or a path to re-invention.  If recovery is their goal, they will likely find themselves only slightly better off than today despite spending big bucks on media and message.  If true re-invention is the goal, innovation and shopper centricity will guide their decisions and the odds on not only surviving, but actually thriving ……increase substantially.

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