J.C. Penney Founder

1. James Cash Penney, Founder & CEO J.C. Penney

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:

We get real results only in proportion to the real values we give.
James Cash Penney

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 Square deal

2. J.C. Penney 2012 Square Deal logo

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.

Ronald Johnson, CEO J.C. Penney

3. Ronald Johnson, CEO J.C. Penney

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

Every man must decide for himself whether he shall master his world or be mastered by it.
James Cash Penney

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.

How Consumers Use Mobile in The Marketplace (Russ Henneberry, visual.ly.com) offers a great view of just how far consumers will go to grab the best deal.

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:

Exchange ideas frequently.
James Cash Penney

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.

Read more J.C. Penney at brainyquote.com 


1. James Cash Penney, Founder. Source: shs.umsystem.edu via Debbie on Pinterest

2. J.C. Penney Square Deal. Source: forbes.com via Lynda on Pinterest

3. Ron Johnson, CEO J.C. Penney. Source: forbes.com via Marj on Pinterest