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JCPenney Marketing Isn’t Helping The Stores


The 1989 movie Field of Dreams gave us the quote that’s often misquoted – “If you build it, he will come.”

Fast forward nearly 25 years and you’ll likely hear JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson’s mantra, “If we build it, they will come.” In Johnson’s case the “it” they’re building is the massive remodel of JCPenney’s stores. The project begun in June is largely complete and the stores are ready for the holiday season. I only wonder if customers are ready for JCP. Has Johnson’s vision put the retailer at odds with their customer?

Once JCPenney’s stores in small towns gave the company a competitive edge. Local shoppers depended on its outposts for the latest appliances and to pick up their catalog purchases. Today, many of JCPenney 400 small-town stores are no longer assets. Fifty percent of all JCPenney stores are in suburban malls, a now troubled retail format. Further competitors like Walmart have made a business out their small town presence. And that pesky Amazon brings the world to small towns via the internet.

A tour of a JCPenney store in suburban Minneapolis was enlightening. Overall the store looks exceptional. Signage is helpful not at odds with the product. There’s enough space to walk between clothing racks. The Sephora shop was bustling. The jcp shop product is crisp and the product is well-priced.

There were, however, very few customers shopping.

The next day, in the local Sunday newspaper, another one of JCPenney’s slick inserts presented itself. The insert’s design was consistent with the highly produced fluff of previous inserts. Skinny models. Lots of white space. Prices and products. Retail eye candy that’s not very satisfying.

My position for some time has been that JCPenney would be best served by its marketing if the ads focused on product features and benefits – not just price. From what I observed in the jcp shops is the price is sharp – no doubt. But the product appears to be well made of good components and cloth. Why not connect the dots between sharp price, quality and the succeeding benefit (be it fit, comfort, durability, etc.)?

The image above shows one of the pages with a small step towards a little harder working copy. 3 callouts. One for the collar – which is covered up by a scarf. And two on washing and dyeing. Yikes. That’s it? With an entire page that’s all they could muster?

Since August critics have been quick to pronounce Johnson’s overhaul of JCPenney, and perhaps his tenure with the brand as well, as dead on arrival. So now that Johnson has built it –  it’s up to marketing to help make customers come to the store. If the company’s creative work doesn’t hit harder before the holiday season those critics might just be right.

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