Like many occasional JC Penney customers, I received an e-mail today announcing that "Fair and Square Begins Now." Those who watch television have also been inundated with JC Penney ads over the last week as people scream about missed sales or coupon management.
So I went to my local store to check it out.
Fair and Square means three pricing levels.
Red for the price (everyday—not low mind you, just everyday). A counter intuitive move were red usually means sale. So the mental connection is that even red on everyday must mean low, even if it doesn’t say low.
White for month-long values. This is a sale.
Blue for best prices – in other words, clearance items – also, it appears, on other items the first and third of the month.
Beside that, the employees told me they worked 14-16 hour days resigning and retagging everything. I purchased a clearance jacket with a blue label placed neatly at the bottom of a old style tag with older pricing on it. My roughly $150 dollar microfiber jacket was acquired for $11 dollars. Nothing to calculate, just a price (the old pink tag said $60% off, $47.99 and was placed haphazardly on the hang tag). The new blue tag, and for that matter, every tag that I saw, was placed neatly as was everything else in the store. The former clearance racks held "best price" merchandize with no indication of clearance (beyond legacy tags on the garments themselves)—and even the "best price" racks were sorted by product and color. I have to say on the retail floor side, today’s shopping experience was a lot closer to Nordstrom than Target, which is a move in the right direction.
I was also informed that returns would be easy and could be executed at any counter.
CEO Ron Johnson’s Target and Apple experience can be felt in the new, neater stores. I’m guessing that Johnson also plans to abandon the long form name and go with JCP, which is a better Twitter hashtag and sounds more hip. The only problem with this (like KFC) is that in the future, people will need to turn to Wikipedia to find out what the moniker stands for (what is McDonald’s going to do?—become "M" –as their nickname, Mickey D’s, contains the same number of characters as their actual name).
This level factiousness requires constant vigilance as retail goes through its digital era transformation. I think the JC Penney experience will require deeper technology changes such as loyalty programs and other ways to engage people beyond price. JC Penney needs to connect to its customers in new and innovative ways and differentiate the relationship, not just the retail experience, from the competition.
This physical shopping experience transformation at JCP does not appear to be an inexpensive one, and from what I was told in the store at Bellevue Square, the transformation will continue with new displays, and in their case, a new manager for the store.
(BTW, thanks for being one of the few retailers that stocks items in larger sizes.)
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.