Heather Meligan

June 2, 2013

JC Penney: Comeback or Demise?

It was quite an eventful May for classic big box retailer JC Penney. It started out at the beginning of the month with an apology ad that urged JC Penney customers to come back, thanked them halfway through the month for doing so and ended the month with a controversial billboard choice.  JC Penney has made some big decisions, firing CEO Ron Johnson after 17 months to bring back former CEO Myron Ullman. With that came a ‘return to normal’ of sorts to lure back loyal shoppers. However, this has made a lot of people wonder, will this be a comeback or the beginning of the end for JC Penney?

Their apology ad made a splash. Posted to its Facebook and YouTube accounts, and running frequently as a TV ad, JC Penney tried to level with its customer base http://usat.ly/10K7UPA. The chain’s “It’s no secret” ad admitted that it had changed, some for the worse and some for the better, but claimed it was now listening to its customers and urged them to come back. This was step one. These efforts continued on Facebook and Twitter with JC Penney creating an interactive atmosphere and even a #jcpListens hashtag. Slowly but surely, it’s customers were being heard.

Then, halfway through the month around Mother’s Day, JC Penney ran another ad thanking customers for coming back http://bit.ly/1aSYsKQ. This implied that they’d completed their efforts to lure customers back and had seen the results they were after. It seemed like they were jumping the gun here. How could customers be coming back that fast? Why would JC Penney be thanking them if their work wasn’t done yet? There’s no way JC Penney completed their return to normalcy and enticed all of its loyal customer base back to stores that fast. JC Penney could have waited a few months on this one, as this was just the beginning. They collected a lot of feedback online that they were beginning to put to use but they had not reached the end goal.

Sales were still down and changes were still in motion, as JC Penney made a return to private label brands among other things. Their ‘return to normalcy,’ an attempt to reconnect with their core audience, to get them to re-identify with their brand. Yet, it’s also no secret that things were not good before the prior CEO change and change of store models. One has to ask, does JC Penney really want to return to normal? Wasn’t normal what got them in trouble in the first place, pushing them towards drastic changes?

Then came the end of the month with their disastrous tea kettle billboard http://bit.ly/16BZA9h. Did anyone think to ask for alternate shots of this product? Obviously not but that’s perhaps what should’ve happened. A billboard with a tea kettle was posted and its text read something like ‘all the bells and whistles you deserve.’ The image got all the attention though, as many compared it to Adolf Hitler. JC Penney responded to this claim with a tweet that read “Certainly unintended. If we’d designed the kettle to look like something, we would’ve gone w/a snowman.” Certainly the right way to handle it, but did they handle it with enough style and grace or had they already fallen flat on their face? It definitely wasn’t timely considering their comeback efforts.

JC Penney is trying to move forward, but what it needs is its original look with an edge. It’s hard to define what that edge would be other than something that pushes it ahead of other big box retailers while maintaining what it’s known for. A fine line to walk and a hard balance to achieve. There are many people already calling for JC Penney’s demise in 2014. It’s hard to say what will happen, but we can speculate. Do you see JC Penney making a comeback or digging its own grave? You’ve already heard my take, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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