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An Open Letter To Ron Johnson of JC Penney


Dear Mr. Johnson, you may know this already but if not, let me break the news to you, your marketing is awful.

You brought credibility and renewed interest in JC Penney since your departure from Apple. You profess confidence in your turnaround strategy, but it’s hard to see how this confidence stems from the company’s results. In your 9 month tenure, JC Penney has gone from a stale and boring but stable company to a train wreck.

The release is below. Here are some quick highlights:

  • Same-store sales dropped 22%
  • Sales dropped 23%
  • Online sales dropped 33%
  • Gross margin dropped from 38% to 33%
  • The company will miss its targets for the year

The weird thing is I don’t believe the company’s declining performance stems from the pricing strategies you unveiled in January. It’s your marketing.

If you’re not selling on price, you have two other options. To sell on quality or service. Unfortunately neither have received any attention in print or TV advertising. Scant copy, that is often weak like the sample below, supporting unknown brands such as Worthington is not incentive enough to entice consumers to shop your stores or website.

Please do a 180 on your marketing before it’s too late. Define Worthington to consumers. Explain the brands’ position (why it exists and why we should buy it). If the product is good, the quality is there and the price is justified consumers will buy.

Oh, and you might want to take a look at your model selection. They are consistently too hip and too skinny. They don’t resemble any of the shoppers I’ve seen in your stores. Aligning models more closely to the JC Penney target audience might help your marketing make a connection. In case you haven’t noticed the woman up top, from this week’s newspaper insert, needs a cheeseburger – pronto.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Pike permalink
    08/22/2012 12:02 am

    I disagree. You are really only talking about the promotional (advertising) component of marketing.
    Choosing less aspirational models will not solve a 22% sales decline or falling margins.
    JCP’s problem is a lack of delivery of the value proposition. The merchandise and store experience do not match the pricing and promotional strategy. In short, the perverbial cart is ahead of the horse. Fix the assortment/product, fix the store/place, and the pricing and promotion will work.
    Ron may want a new customer, but they won’t come until the 4 P’s are aligned. . .and that is not a 9 month job.

    • 08/22/2012 8:22 am

      Points well taken. And I agree with you! In fact I wrote about that way back in February

      It is stunning when non-apparel business people expect turnarounds at the snap of a finger. The long tail of soft goods, especially own brand product, is usually incomprehensible for those without apparel backgrounds.

      The most recent post was perhaps a knee-jerk reaction on my part to the surprising lack of change in JCP’s marketing given the current financials, departure of Francis and consumer reaction to ads/pricing/signage, etc. A “Steady as She Goes” marketing strategy is not helping JCP right now.

  2. elaine kroha permalink
    09/19/2012 4:43 pm

    when a man(my husband) comments on how skinny the girls in your printed ads are,i think something is wrong,especially since we notice how obesity is becoming too common. i thought the latest fashion designers were trying to reach out to all size women!!

  3. Karen permalink
    11/01/2012 5:58 pm

    Wow I just opened up the jcp add I received in the mail today. I was taken aback by how extremely thin the young models are. Down right anorexic appearing. It has a feeling of wrongness. I don’t usually get past them and toss it aside feeling like it is not directed at me.

    I have a question are the prices in this add sale prices? I feel I have been left to figure that out on my own. I have not been impressed by the new marketing. I miss the old adds that had a more homey edge and great sales in them. I always found something to buy for my home. Pennys always meant higher quality than other stores in general. I always loved looking at the comforters, bedspreads, draperies and many other things in the catalogs and could imagine those items in my home. Now if I do not go online or open up the adds (that now feel cold and too edgey) that are in the Sunday newspaper I do not get drawn in to look or buy.

    We have a very small Pennys store in our town which has limited items. The adds and catalogs were my connections to all that Pennys had available.

    • 11/01/2012 6:38 pm

      Karen, you are not alone in your perception of the gaunt models. I’ve heard the same from others as well. One woman said something to the effect…if my husband comments on a models thinness it must be really noticeable.

      While I can’t speak for the specific ad you’re referring to – the prices in their advertising and their stores are now essentially “everyday low” prices. I agree with the principle of pricing fairly (no obscene markups to support phony markdowns – such as 70% off sales) but JCP has done a poor job of staying in touch with its existing customers, like you, while trying to connect with new customers.

      I thought they were on track to make a change but the marketing will prove to be their undoing unless changes are made.

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