J.C. Penney: Too Much (Change), Too Fast? Or the Wrong Change to Begin With?
Earlier this week, J.C. Penney announced another big change. Eighteen months after a huge company-wide overhaul led by the (now-infamous CEO) Ron Johnson they are in rewind mode—removing from their logo the red, white and blue square; dropping the lower-case abbreviations; and returning to what they were before 2011. J.C. Penney has hit the proverbial reset on their brand again and, oh, if you weren’t aware, Ron Johnson is out and Mike Ullman is back (to the future) as CEO.
As General Custer Once Said, “What’s Going On?”
J.C. Penney took risks and failed miserably—leading to massive layoffs, upset and confused customers, and a Q4 loss in 2012 that is widely believed to be the worst in major-retail history. It was a perfect storm of failures. We shan’t go into the details, but if you’re curious, Business Insider has a detailed timeline of J.C. Penney’s precipitous 18-month fall.
It boils down to this: J.C. Penney’s biggest failure has been not listening to their customers’ needs and expectations. Although many of the changes Johnson initiated appealed to the younger audience of 20-somethings that he targeted (his familiar Apple and Target demographic), the new policies alienated the moms, dads, grandparents and bargain shoppers who have made up their primary audience for generations.
This older, price-sensitive consumer base is well known to love sales, bargains and deals. The “fair and square” policy of removing promotions and keeping prices “reasonable” all the time didn’t resonate with their traditional audience. There is a thrill, a sense of satisfaction that comes from finding what you’re looking for on sale. Removing that “sale” element quickly created the perception that J.C. Penney was more—too—expensive.
Although many would like to blame J.C. Penney’s problems on a new logo, the blame lies rather in turning their back on their core audience.
It’s extremely important to research, study, understand and ultimately meet the needs of your natural audience before, and then while in the process of, making major consumer-facing changes to your company.
Redesign is good. Change is good. Acting to grow your business is necessary. But leaving your traditional audience in the dust when doing so, leads to nowhere good.
What do you think about J.C. Penney’s situation?