J.C. Penney's latest marketing gambit: Apologizing

The repentent retailer goes straight to customers and begs forgiveness for messing up.

By Bruce Kennedy May 2, 2013 1:19PM

Shoppers at a J.C. Penney store in New York, NY on October 23, 2009 (© Mark Lennihan/AP)Apologizing is rarely easy, and it's harder still for companies that have made major mistakes. But J.C. Penney (JCP) has decided its best approach to damage control, after a notoriously difficult year-and-a-half under former CEO Ron Johnson, is to come out and directly say "we're sorry" to its customers.


The retailer fired Johnson last month and rehired former CEO Myron Ullman, after Johnson's attempts to take the company in a different direction ran into a brick wall. Johnson wanted to revamp Penney's product lines, downsize staff and do away with its long-standing coupons, discounts and bargains.


But those changes backfired dramatically. They ended up alienating many of the store's long-time clientele while destroying employee morale. The company's struggles became headlines -- with revenue falling 25% in a single quarter and share prices declining around 60% in a year.


The chain also took a $1.75 billion loan from Goldman Sachs (GS) to, in the words of Penney's CFO, "give us the financial strength we need to meet our current funding requirements."


And now, as the dust appears to be settling, the company is appealing directly to consumers.


"It's no secret, recently J.C. Penney changed," says a new ad the company posted on YouTube. "Some changes you liked and some you didn't, but what matters from mistakes is what we learn," the voice-over continues. "Come back to J. C. Penney, we heard you. Now, we'd love to see you."


Some customers seem willing to forgive and forget. "It's nice to see the old logo again," says one recent comment on retailer's YouTube site. "Just bring back coupons and decent sales on Nike (NKE) apparel and I will return!"


But others are less convinced. "You know, when Domino's (DPZ) admitted they made a mistake, they gave us a reason to go back: A better product," said another YouTube commenter. "'We're listening', with zero incentives, is just an empty phrase."


Analysts say the new campaign may heal some wounds with disgruntled Penney customers, but they'll also want to know where the company is heading.


"When you are in a free fall, you sometimes need to call a time out and say, 'Wait a second. We're going to get this under control,'" Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates, told the Associated Press. "The answer may be further down the road as to why they come back."


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53Comments
May 2, 2013 2:56PM
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Just bring back the "old" JCPenney and make staff "work" by making riff-raff customers pick up their garments after they try them on in the open space instead of the dressing rooms! Make yourself accountable for such a mess. Every time I step into JCP or JCPenney, whatever it is..., I see different clothes and styles and prices - nothing consistently trendy or kind to the customer. Your buyers should KNOW what your customer base is and what trends to bring into your store for your customers - not for Forever21 shoppers or Size 2s only shoppers.
May 2, 2013 3:17PM
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Bring back the catalog/customer service areas.  I want to check out and buy a shirt.  I don't want to wait in the same line with those returning things or picking up a catalog order.  Bring back the registers.  I don't want to look around for someone with a handheld device to check me out.  Bring back the knowledgable associates.  I don't want some untrained high schooler, if you can even find one, who is not able to show me how to tie a tie.  
May 2, 2013 3:18PM
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You need a whopping big sale with great coupons to get people to come back. Once customers are in the store you'll need some stylish clothing, accessories, jewelry, shoes and quality home furnishings to keep them in the store. Good luck!
May 2, 2013 4:00PM
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I stopped shopping at JCP which was my favorite store when they stopped the sales/coupons and good quality clothing at reasonable prices.  The quality of clothing went out the window with the no sale approach...  I hope they go back to the old ways.

 

Will definitely go back if the old JCP reemerges!

May 2, 2013 4:04PM
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Bring back the brands - East 5th, St. John's Bay.  Recognize that your base customers are not skinny high schoolers.  I admit I wear the "plus" sizes and loved the casual/career East 5th women's slacks. 
May 2, 2013 4:17PM
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JC Penney needs to go back to having their employees dress like employees and not someone off the street.   The men use to wear dress shirts and ties and the girls wore dress clothes as well.  Now they were jeans and you can't tell who works there until they come up to you and harass you to apply for one of their credit cards. 

 

I think they should just have a "credit station" where people that want to apply for a credit card can.  I HATE when I am checking out and the associate asks if I have a credit card from their store and when I say no, they then as if I want one. 

May 2, 2013 4:38PM
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I stopped shopping there when CEO Mr. Johnson insulted his customers by saying that we are addicted to coupons and that we would need to be trained to shop a different way. Well it didn't work and I got "trained" to shop elsewhere. JCP needs to bring back the clothing lines that they discontinued and in the future continue to listen to what the customers want. If you don't listen to customers and insult them, you end up having no customers. I hope they go back to the old JCP and make a recovery.
May 2, 2013 4:13PM
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Two days after the CEO was fired JCP went through and doubled all prices. Yes they are going back to coupons but the prices are not better.  JCP Employee..
May 2, 2013 3:17PM
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How about instead of saying you're sorry for going against the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mindset, spend that time actually making your product more desirable. I'm not going to buy anything from anyone simply because they admit that what they're selling sucks or is not as good as it used to be.
May 2, 2013 3:28PM
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I would hope it's not a ploy. Got a lot of good stuff from JCP through the years. But now it's time for the company to put its money where its mouth is.
May 2, 2013 3:26PM
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Bring back the Mens Boat shoes,They were a great shoe at a great price and they stop handling them. WHY?
May 2, 2013 4:33PM
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I've been in JCP recently.  I'm not happy.  I have worn the same size clothes for the last few years and all of a sudden the "new clothes" are all running smaller that before.  Bring back the sizing and brands that made us want to shop there.  I will keep trying JCPenney, but if merchandise and prices don't improve soon I'll just go to Kohls.
May 2, 2013 5:09PM
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JC Penney should offer major discounts to get customers back.  Start sending out the $10 off coupons like they use to.  Put the store back to a regular store with competitive pricing.  Different shops within the store are too confusing.
May 2, 2013 4:17PM
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I wish JCP would copy a page from the old Filene's Department Store chain (which was bought up by May's and ultimately by Macy's). Filene's had great clothes for the middle class. They weren't a discount chain and they weren't prohibitively upscale like Bloomingdales. They DID run sales and they DID have some expensive items, but everyone in the Boston area shopped at Filene's. 

That little niche isn't being filled and JCP could fill it. They're almost there - their selections (at least on the men's side) are similar to what Filene's had. But they need to beef up their inventory (I can almost NEVER find an item I like available in my size online).  And the stores need a makeover.



May 2, 2013 4:00PM
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Yet Ron Johnson walks away with lots of cash in his pocket. I don't want to shop at JC  penny on this basis alone. Pathetic.
May 2, 2013 5:29PM
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They need to be careful of not undoing the positive things they have started on. My young adult daughters and son (in their early to mid 20's) have shopped JCP regularly over the past several months; all due to the revamping. My wife and I still enjoy the store. I've noticed a lot of younger shoppers, as well as those in my age group (40's-50's) walking out the door with a lot of purchases. Fine, bring back the coupons; but don't feel like you must stay trapped in a 1970's hair style. JCP can serve a varied customer base.
May 2, 2013 5:44PM
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When the extent of your customer appreciation is  "OOOOPS" you understand why they failed and will continue to fail.
May 2, 2013 5:40PM
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At least they slashed his pay before they giving him the boot. It's time that all CEO compensation be based on performance, especially if they expect to make 1795 times more than the average worker at their company (former J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson received a total compensation package 1,795 times that of former fashion jewelry saleswoman Rebecca Gonzales in 2011.)

 

May 2, 2013 5:31PM
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go cheaper prices  as low as walmart and target  and they will come simple  jc pennys  until then you will continue to fall and will go out of business.  you can do it  cut the ceos  pay benefits  perks  and all upper managments pay  and benfits  and your numbers will soar
May 2, 2013 7:14PM
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Give the company credit for listening to it's customers and reversing previous strategy. Some of the well known brands are returning (i.e. Saint John's Bay). The home departments are being remodeled and other areas of the store now contain brand shops. It will be interesting to see if the remodeling efforts continue under Mike Ullman's tenure.

 

For those that are complaining about prices rising to support a coupon/sale marketing strategy, I cannot understand any argument you might possibly possess. The previous strategy entailed having low prices all the time but no coupons or sales. Unfortunately, marketing efforts did not communicate this very well.

 

If you want the company to act as other retailers, you must expect retail prices to rise to support various coupon or sales campaigns. If you think any other retailer does not have inflated prices to support similar marketing, you must be kidding yourself. A sale or a coupon is never an amazing deal; it's allowing consumers to bring prices closer to true retail value. Granted, this strategy works incredibly well and it's a good thing for J. C. Penney to return to this style of offering. After all, every competitor offers similar strategies.

 

Hopefully, the company will continue to bring back popular brands and support sale and coupon marketing strategies. Either way, you can please all of the people some of the time and some people all of the time. Give the company a chance and help save 1000s of jobs. It's in your best interests for J. C. Penney to succeed.

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