Early last February, JCPenney rolled out its “Fair and Square Everyday Pricing Plan”. It didn’t take long for push back from consumers, analysts, and just about everyone with an opinion, either. The primary complaints weren’t limited to the new pricing program, because in addition to price tag changes, the department store started radically changing floor-plans and reduced product selection in many locations. Couple that with the fact that consumers weren’t necessarily enthusiastic about shopping in general due to the economy, and it was a near disastrous combination for the corporation.
While JCPenney got at least a temporary reprieve from the Martha Stewart branding debacle with Macy’s, that doesn’t come close to undoing the damage by recently ousted CEO, Ron Johnson. They can console themselves at least a little that the dismissal cost them a paltry $148,924, but in all fairness (pun intended), that number should include the 25% losses in sales, and the 50% drop in stock values. Hindsight is 20/20, and one can only wonder now why JCPenney would think that Johnson could have helped to boost their sales the same way did with Apple stores. Comparing the two is like the proverbial comparison of “apples and oranges” – Apple products enjoy a base of loyal consumers that buy products simply because they are manufactured by the electronics giant. It’s also abundantly clear that it was huge mistake to give Johnson free reign to make changes to the department store’s brick and mortar operations at will. It’s been argued that he was fixing something that wasn’t broken, and should have been focusing on online sales.
So, to rectify all of this, JCPenney may very well be making another big mistake by bringing back former CEO, Myron Ullman. Nothing says a company has learned its lesson about past mistakes like bringing back someone that failed to address problems previously, even if that person could be considered the “lesser of two evils.” Yes, the colossal mistakes made by Johnson need to be rolled back, and it probably won’t hurt the bottom line at least temporarily, to appease consumers that were annoyed with the radical changes by assuring them that it will be going back to “business as usual.” But, if the future plans don’t include a sincere effort to compete in the online market, JCPenney can’t count on a long-term recovery. And that brings us to “the apology” ad campaign:
It’s no secret, recently JCPenney changed. Some changes you liked and some you didn’t, but what matters from mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing, to listen to you. To hear what you need, to make your life more beautiful. Come back to JCPenney, we heard you. Now, we’d love to see you.
The commercial encourages consumers to visit the corporate Facebook page, to offer their feedback. A quick review of their interactions with the public isn’t particularly encouraging though. Visitor comments run hot and cold, with quite a few consumers making suggestions about the company returning to old practices. But, this is Facebook, and it’s likely that responses would be radically different on other social media sites. Many of the comments are from older consumers, and while they are important to consider, the reality of the situation is that building a marketing plan based on feedback from age-limited niche will be yet another disaster. Bluntly, particularly if catering to Baby Boomers, that is a recipe for short-term success followed by a precipitous drop and flat-line. It can’t be assumed that JCPenney will be smart enough to avoid this either, since they’ve opted to re-hire Ullman. Only time will tell where this all leads, but if the past is any indication, consumers will get one thing they tend to enjoy for at least a little while – going out of business sales.