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A Penney for Your Thoughts

Why break it if it’s not broken? That’s exactly what JCPenney’s has done. In an attempt to reinvent (rebrand) itself in the last year, Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson did away with the use of coupons in exchange for “everyday” low prices. Coupons and sales would be a thing of the past—and so would the thrill of watching the total on the register come down after a coupon was scanned. Welcome the “Fair and Square” campaign. As a result, JCPenney sales fell 20% in the first quarter of 2013—and saw the removal of Johnson as CEO. Now, Penney’s has launched a social media and television campaign to ask the shoppers who left in droves to come back.
During Ron Johnson’s “Fair and Square” rebranding campaign, I did not understand what the commercials were trying to tell the consumer. I remember a dog jumping through a hula hoop, a man in a lawn chair, and some screaming ads that were just irritating. What I do know is the layout of the store changed, they were trying to attract a younger, hipper customer, and the music was different in each department. Annoyingly so. Shopping became an unpleasant experience—and I just stopped going. Even if I went to the mall, I’d shop in other stores and avoided “JCP.” As a longtime Penney’s shopper, the store was my “go-to” for all kinds of things, from coats to comforters to communion outfits to cookware, just to name a few. I actually got excited to use those coupons Johnson so hated. They usually forced me to into the store because… I could save $15 if I spent $75!

I heard a JCP commercial asking consumers to come back. The voiceover states, “Come back to JCPenney. We heard you; now we’d love to see you.” Wow! I thought. They are talking to me! One of the customers they lost in the changeover!

Now that Penney’s is transitioning away from the Ron Johnson tenure, I went shopping with a new coupon in hand. The feel of the store is softer but still “hip” and “relevant,” which is a good mix. However, I noticed the prices went up. Some say that JCPenney’s is raising prices by upwards of 67% on some items. So the strategy is to jack up prices, offer coupons to get deals and win back their customers? I wouldn’t be surprised if this backfires, too. Their customer base is pretty smart. Are they setting themselves up for another apology? Was an apology even necessary in the first place?

I’m happy JCP recognized the error of their ways, and I will say they have won me back. But shopping without a coupon—NEVER! Hey, I just got an e-coupon from Penney’s. I can save $15 if I spend $75. Time to shop!


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