Investors are worried about JCPenney’s ability to turn itself around.
Marketers are, too.
After all, it’s no secret traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are undergoing significant upheaval. Convenient and compelling digital shopping experiences offered by online giants like Zappos and Amazon have shrunk offline sales, and marketers around the globe are now scrambling to create the winning formula that will get customers off laptops and tablets . . . and into their stores.
But, if retail icon jcpenney –under the leadership of Ron Johnson, the former head of Apple Stores –can’t get traction with the brand renovation it launched earlier this year, what does that say about the future of brick-and-mortar retail, in general? With the omnichannel revolution underway, how much leeway do brands have to try to connect with today’s empowered consumers? Which missteps are forgivable . . . and which are potentially fatal?
Many contributors at Forbes have focused on jcpenney’s new pricing model. But, the company’s rebranding has been much more broad-based. For example, jcpenney is currently innovating in the areas of:
Personality: New jcpenney spokesperson, Ellen DeGeneres, has brought her devoted talk show following to their doors with a series of clever ads and promotions that stand out from traditional retail advertising.
Look and feel: The new jcp logo launched in January 2012 was greeted with a bit of skepticism, considering it was the third makeover the mark had seen in recent memory, and given the Gap logo fiasco of 2010. Despite this, the new identity—which plays off the idea of a “square deal”—has had a significant impact on the look and feel of the company’s website,www.jcp.com, and in-store signage.
Pricing structure: Rather than driving purchases with sales and coupons, jcpenney is reducing prices across the board to provide consistent daily values. The company is also leaving behind the classic merchandising strategy of having all prices end in “9” or “7.” Now customers will only see “whole” dollar amounts on signs and tags.
Sales models: The “store within a store” concept has already been tested with cosmetics retailer, Sephora, and will continue with mini Martha Stewart boutiques (following jcpenney’s purchase of 16.6 percent of Martha Stewart Omnimedia’s stock) and other well-known and well-regarded brands.
Service models: Similar to Apple’s wildly popular “Genius Bar” service center, jcpenney will now offer expert guidance on its fashion and home products through a core service space in stores.
And still, sales are down . . . while all the big questions keep piling up. Will consumers eventually latch on to any of these changes? If so, how long will it take? Can jcpenney’s fortunes actually improve in the long run?
It’s difficult to predict exactly what the net impact of jcpenney’s moves will be—ultimately, that will depend on jcpenney’s customers—and reports so far have been both positive and negative. Suddenly, a staid and traditional company has become non-traditional and is now meeting some resistance. But by focusing on improving the customer experience, jcpenney shows where its priorities lie. The company is appealing to a new generation of consumers, and it’s consumers who ultimately control the brand in the digital marketing age (provided jcpenney maximizes those channels). The company seems to understand that today, enhanced service must be the focus –rather than solely improving sales.