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JC Penney Tries to Woo Back Core Customers


JC Penney appears to be reevaluating its low everyday prices strategy, adding more promotional sales and signs to show how much customers are saving.

That change has sent many longtime JC Penney shoppers to Macy's (NYSE:M), Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) and Chico's (NYSE:CHS), including Maureen Wlodarczyk, Director of Operations at Cushman and Wakefield and resident of New Jersey.

Wlodarczyk says she shopped at the store for 30 years and bought everything from clothing to baby cribs from its now-deceased catalog. She no longer shops at JC Penney, however, because everything that once appealed to her -- the catalog, the sales and the brand names she valued -- are gone.

She now does most of her shopping online, shopping for home décor on Wayfair, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Kohl's websites and buys her clothes at Macy's, Chico's, Lord & Taylor, Coldwater Creek (NASDAQ:CWTR) and Kohl's.

"Clothing (at JC Penney) is now of a much lower quality with less variety, and they have 'gutted' their own labels that I once valued such as their Worthington and American Living lines. They apparently bought the Liz Claiborne label and now that is no longer of the same quality either," Wlodarczyk said in an email.

When she did visit her local store in New Jersey, the experience was disappointing. The store was undergoing construction, making it difficult for her to find clothes. Pricing was also an issue, as the cashier didn't realize what the appropriate price was.

"More than once, when I did try the new store layout and pricing, I had to point out to the cashier that the scanned price on my item was not the posted price," Wlodarczyk says.

She later received an email blast from Ron Johnson asking for feedback about the new JC Penney model. Wldoarczyk wrote to the company but never received a response.

"I realize that the revamp is aimed at bringing in younger people and I understand the need to do that. What I can't understand is how Mr. Johnson, who is supposedly such a savvy businessman, thought that taking a slash-and-burn approach with long-time loyal older customers would benefit the company."

Karen Rose worked at JC Penney when sales were the dominant force pulling in customers. Now Rose, 55, works for as a receptionist for a hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

"Customers used coupons all the time. If they did not have one with them they would ask at the register if there were any extras they could use," Rose said in an interview, adding that there was never a time when the store wasn't running a sale or promotion. Sales associates were never told ahead of time when sales would be but they were told as soon as ads came out and flyers arrived in customers' mailboxes.

Rose used to shop at the store often but no longer does.

"I always found what I wanted at the store for myself or for my family. I miss not getting the flyers or the discounts," Rose said. "It keeps me from shopping there. I would probably wander through if I got promos in the mail. Who knows? I might buy a blouse or pair of pants."

In terms of wooing back former fans, it sounds like Johnson and his staff have a long way to go.

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