Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The J.C.Penney's Lesson

Any J.C. Penney’s shoppers out there? I know I used to be a dedicated one, especially this time of year when hundreds of swimsuits showed up there. Penney’s had nice full coverage swimsuits that hid a multitude of sins, but usually cost anywhere from $68-$120 dollars. Oh, there were sales and coupons too. Not, last year though, and the suits were flimsy, cheap suits that would at best only look good on a perfect twenty-year old body. They were cheap, but not what I wanted.

Ousted Penney’s CEO Ron Johnson decided to shake up J. C. Penney’s stagnant sales. The stores offered everyday prices, no sales or coupons. He also made the veteran sales clerks run everything through a handheld device that often didn’t work. No catalog department, instead you told the clerk you had an order, she called anyone available to go get your order. There was usually no one available, so you waited, and waited. The redesigned store was a store within a store. Read: you have no clue where anything is.

I hadn’t been in J.C. Penney’s since last year’s disastrous swimsuit expedition. This time I only ventured in to use their restrooms.  I saw the five-dollar t-shirt and the bright color-coded signs. I decided to buy one exceedingly cheaply constructed shirt to wear to the gym. It lasted one wearing. I put it into my new high efficiency washer, and it unraveled. All my other non-J.C. Penney’s clothes came out fine. In fact, none of them ever did me the discourtesy of falling apart.

Luckily, I wasn’t too attached to the shirt. It brings up the issue of price versus quality. People want good quality and a cheaper price. That’s why people will flock to sales and use coupons. This is a time-honored lesson. Ron Johnson used to work for Apple. If Apple put out a cheap computer that locked up after one use, then they would go out of business no matter how cheap the computers were. A store can only stay in business if it has repeat customers.

The J.C.Penney’s experiment is now over. Mike Ullman, new CEO, promises coupons and sales will be back. Coupons and sales allow the person to think they are getting something special, a reward of sorts. Shopping is often as close as some women will get to big game hunting. I remember getting a $300 wool coat for $29 in the summer. That was my twelve-point buck. Kohls understands this concept, which explains endless sales, Kohls cash, early bird and night owl bargains that has kept their profits consistent while Penney’s is in the basement and digging a sub-basement.

Carsons is another failed experiment. They are always offering coupons that can’t be used on anything. We all know mall rent is high, so prices are marked up on mall merchandise. Carsons sends me coupons all the time. Most recently on my birthday, but no matter what I picked out my coupons were not usable. My intention was to use my $10 birthday card on one top and buy the rest. What I ended up doing was leaving the card and shirts on the counter. The birthday card did not say I couldn’t use the card on sales item. Apparently, this was information that only the sales clerks knew. Carsons advertising executives must have figured once they had me in the store I would buy no matter what, they figured wrong.

In the world of retail merchandise, people have too much to distract them from retails stores who don’t give them what they want. Many retail stores have an online presence to compete with online retailers, and even offer free shipping. Other brick and mortar stores are having child-related activities, community sales that benefit the local charities, or even celebrity appearances. Other stores are trying to win customers by having a generous return policy such as Kohls. Walgreens even lets you return makeup you tried on, but doesn’t work. Lowes is keeping track of your furnace filter sizes and the color of paint you bought via the My Lowes card. Why would you patronize a store that doesn’t give you what you want?

I am still on the swimsuit search. Last time, I ended up at Marshalls buying suits that Penney’s used to carry. I am open to all suggestions.

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