How can I say that J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) didn’t listen to James Cash Penney, the store’s founder? It comes down to three quotes and the Golden Rule. (See below for credits.)
Penney’s Golden Rule of retailing
James Cash Penney, one of modern retail’s pioneers, lived by the Golden Rule. You know, treat others as you would be treated. Here’s his retail interpretation:
Give customers a fair deal, matched by good service, and you’ll get repeat business. Which leads to the other maxim: It’s only with a second purchase that a buyer becomes a customer. So if your buyers become and remain active customers, then your store is doing well by the Golden Rule.
J.C. Penney 2012 — not so golden?
As shoppers, it’s in our DNA to hunt, gather, and achieve victory — even if now it happens in a shopping mall or virtually via e-commerce. Armed with a smart phone and a credit card, consumers are price matching in record numbers via Amazon’s Price Check and other apps. More than half of consumers — 60% actually — seek digital advice while shopping reports Pew Research Center (Aaron Smith, Jan 31, 2013). For the full report, visit In-store Mobile Commerce During the Holiday Shopping Season.
More than ever since 2008, customers are all for value, but not at the cost of new behavior that is, well, square (i.e., boring). Shopping experience (i.e., thrill), is a critical part of the total retail brand picture. Following the 2008 economic downfall, we sought value in the merchandise, but not the shopping experience. That’s a big difference.
The no-coupons deal is no more
No one seems surprised. Major business pubs place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson. Rather than pointing fingers, here’s my thesis to the failure: 2012’s Square Deal couldn’t live up to the light of the Golden Rule.
J.C. Penney Company Inc. (the enterprise) theorized that consumers were tired of hunting and wanted a “square deal” that did not vary. Customers — true to their shopping DNA — disproved the theory in rapid order.
Observe the Golden Rule times two
Underneath the Golden Rule, it seems there’s an even deeper rule: Watch what your customers do and plan accordingly. Customers had already decided how they would shop — coupons and all. J.C. Penney set out to change behavior that didn’t seek changing.
According to the Huffington Post, CEO Ron Johnson describes J.C. Penney’s next phase an “evolution” vs. a retrenchment. After 12 months, the store is moving away from flat pricing and emphasizing price comparison. “Sales” is back in the lexicon. Perhaps, they’ve taken note of their founder’s other popular maxim:
In this case, customers listened to their shopping DNA; exchanging the “new” style of shopping for the same old thrill, now danced to a digital beat.