MarketingSocial Media Strategy

J.C. Penney doesn’t get it

James Cash Penney is rolling in his grave.
James Cash Penney is rolling in his grave.

You may have seen the new J.C. Penney ads, where they beg customers to come back to the store.  They are following the model of the GM ads from a few years back – we are sorry we screwed up, please come back.  The ads are promising to undo that changes made to the stores. The problem with that is that the changes were made because nobody was going to the stores in the first place.

Penney’s new direction began in 2011 when new CEO Ron Johnson was brought into revitalize the flagging chain. Johnson attempted to spruce up Penney’s image by adding new micro shops inside of the store to carry name brands like Martha Stewart, Levi’s and Arizona Jeans. The company also did away with sale prices and priced items as “daily values.”

However, sales plummeted even further, prompting Penney’s to fire Johnson and replace him with former CEO Mike Ullman, who has spearheaded the plan to return Penney’s to business as usual. Since the brand was in trouble before Johnson’s tenure, the question is what customers they think are coming back.

A clip from Penney's Facebook page
A clip from Penney’s Facebook page

If Penney’s was actually listening to customers, they would be able to save a lot of money that was spent rebranding and then un-rebranding. All they need to do is take a look at their Facebook page.

The page has over 3 million followers, and the posts they leave have nothing to do with how the store is set up.   There are several recurring themes: items are not in stock, stores are dirty, staff is unresponsive, low quality items at higher prices than competitors (Kmart, Walmart).

JCP does have a very responsive social media staff, so they’ve got that going for them, but they only seem to respond to positive comments. Also, I wonder if their executives really pay any attention to social media and the amount of information they could be garnering here. I’m guessing not.

This seems to be a company that is stuck in the past – a time when companies like JCP and Sears were the top of the department store heap.   Now both are viewed as lower-tier options like Kmart.  Also a time before social media; a time when word of mouth was generated through advertising.

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