Will JCPenney’s core customers come back and show their love?

Discussion
Photo: JCPenney
Apr 07, 2022

JCPenney is giving up its flirtation with consumers that simply aren’t interested in shopping with the chain. The department store retailer is also rolling out a new campaign with one of its biggest fans to let current and former Penney shoppers know that “shopping is back” at the department store retailer.

Marc Rosen, Penney’s new CEO, said in a recent Wall Street Journal interview that the retailer is focused on core customers. These shoppers typically reside within households with a median income of between $50,000 and $75,000 and they are looking for affordable curtains, bedding and mattresses for their homes. They want their clothes to be comfortable and affordable, as well. The chain also wants its mix to reflect the diversity of its primary customer with a wider range of beauty products for different skin tones.

In comparing the latest Penney makeover to past efforts going back to Ron Johnson’s term as CEO, Mr Rosen said, “The biggest difference this time is we are loving those who love us. We need to give them more opportunity to come back and find things they love.”

No one loves Penney more than Penny James, the face of the retailer’s new advertising campaign. Ms. James is a fictional mother, teacher and “superfan” of the chain played by Saturday Night Live cast member Melissa Villaseñor.

The comedian is currently out front celebrating the chain’s 120 year anniversary as part of Penney’s “Shopping is Back” campaign.

The retailer said in a press release that the integrated campaign provides a fresh brand look in stores and online. Penney is celebrating its anniversary with a 30 percent-off storewide promotion. The chain’s reward members will earn an extra $10 bonus for every $50 they spend through April 12.

Ms. Villaseñor’s character is appearing in a series of video spots and taking part in the retailer’s cross-country “Shopping is Back!” Tour.

“The character of Penny James is a playful tribute to our customers and what they love about JCPenney. Shopping is back, and it’s time for JCPenney to be bold and lively, just like Penny,” Carl Byrd, vice president, creative & brand synergy, said in a statement.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will JCPenney succeed by “loving those who love” it? What is different about JCPenney now than in the past?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The challenge now is to ensure it retains the shoppers it has left and, from what I have seen, it is not doing a great job of that!"
"When a retailer has to remind customers that shopping is back, something feels a bit wrong."
"I think the biggest rub for me is that they aren’t addressing the generational blocker they face."

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32 Comments on "Will JCPenney’s core customers come back and show their love?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

JCPenney has a long way to go, but I like this direction. Instead of chasing the “hottest” demographics, Marc Rosen is taking a very pragmatic approach to the customers they serve. The core issues with JCP haven’t gone away, but the back-to-basics approach just might resonate with consumers who do and will shop at JCPenney.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

I love JCP – it was one of my first real retail jobs. And I would dearly love to see it succeed. But, no. I was just in a store this weekend, prom shopping. Rather than JCP investing in advertising, I would strongly encourage the company to invest in its stores. What a sad, sorry place. In a high-end mall (Park Meadows), it felt like JCP was the new Kmart. Ugh.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

I’m with you in the rooting for JCP camp, Nikki – it was one of my first “major” accounts when I was a wholesale salesperson. Once the code was cracked on navigating JCP’s then decentralized buying model (remember when that was its killer advantage until it wasn’t?), the numbers added up nicely. Let’s hope store experience moves higher on the priority list.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

I lived through that centralization! Totally forgot about that!

Rick Watson
BrainTrust

The big question here is how to attract a younger consumer. The rest is really details. The consumer has been shopping, that’s not the problem. They just have not been shopping at JCPenney. I am not seeing anything in these moves and campaigns to appeal to a younger consumer who is shopping both online and off-price. Nor am I seeing an answer to the question, “why do I walk into a JCPenney?”

David Weinand
BrainTrust

Following what we just discussed about the Abercrombie turnaround, I guess you can never say never. But with JCP, there are other forces at hand. Multiple attempts at turnarounds (and the steady loss of customers in the process), the challenge of the department store format, and many of the higher-end brands offering down-market formats. In this case, marketing will perhaps get them some interest but their merchandising, cleanliness, and age of their stores is just not appealing – even for down market.

Dion Kenney
BrainTrust
7 months 23 days ago

I like JCPenney. When I go to the mall, it is the entrance I use and where my shopping begins and ends. But retail is changing, shopping is changing. Every day brings new, innovative uses of tech – both in-store and beyond the store, and shoppers’ expectations are changing. I don’t know that a new campaign without any changes in the business model or leveraging of new tech-enabled capabilities is going to drive the change they are looking for.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

There is a very successful retailer that focuses on a similar demographic. The retailer’s average customer is a woman who is 59.5 years old, white, married, and earning $80,000 per year.

JCP said in a press release that the integrated campaign provides a fresh brand look in stores and online. But the reality is it will be the same old Penney. No one is turning this ship around. JCP is working on a wing and a prayer.

Oh, who is that successful competitor? Walmart. Should we add Target and Kohl’s to the mix?

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

You had me until “played by” and “fictional.” I like Melissa Villaseñor and think she could be a great face for JCPenney but at a time when authenticity is everything, conjuring up a character seems out of touch. The Ron Johnson references also seem dated. He joined Penney in 2011 and, even though much of the criticism he received at the time was valid, the blame heaped on him since represents an epic case of retail scapegoating. Even so, JCPenney is right to focus on its core customers. The question is, with Kohl’s snatching Sephora, Walmart getting serious about apparel again, and Target soaring to new heights in the meantime, have these shoppers already headed for the exits?

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

Carol, I think your point about authenticity is really important — that’s a great catch. Unless you’re using someone to bring an already existing fictional brand icon to life (Wendy? Colonel Sanders? The Burger King? Why is it all food that comes to mind?!?), in this day and age authenticity should be the default assumption of how to go to market.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
7 months 23 days ago

Unfortunately, the market caught up with JCPenney and they were too slow to keep up with the other mid-market retailers who are all fighting for the same piece of the pie.
Sephora has left for greener pastures and they are still trying to figure out what they want to be. I just hope they don’t run out of time.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I visited two JCPenney stores this past weekend. They were atrocious. A complete mess, devoid of inspiration or excitement. Some of the new brands JCPenney has developed, like Mutual Weave, were on display and the execution was horrible. It is all very well for the chain to embark on advertising and to dispense warm words about focusing on customers that love them, but success starts with showing those customers some respect. And let’s be absolutely frank, the reason JCPenney can’t focus on attracting new shoppers is because it isn’t good enough to do so. The challenge now is to ensure it retains the shoppers it has left and, from what I have seen, it is not doing a great job of that!

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

JCPenney is caught between appealing to its core customer and trying to draw in more traffic and sales from younger consumers. Speaking as a Baby Boomer, our ranks as shoppers (and our disposable income) are diminishing, while our Millennial children represent the sweet spot. These are the consumers buying homes and starting families, and (unfortunately for JCP) they have adopted Target as their new favorite place to shop.

I can’t criticize Penney for trying to develop a plan and stick to it, instead of yet another change in direction. However their reduced store footprint and late-to-the-game e-commerce business add to the risk of chasing a shrinking demographic.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Seriously? The “new” strategy is “loving those who love us…?” That sounds like a campaign that could have been written 40 or 50 years ago. It’s hardly an insightful look into today’s market and a positioning statement for the next decade. If JCP isn’t careful, Primark is going to absolutely eat their lunch with great looking stores, good looking product and amazing prices. Only Primark’s small number of stores is preventing them from being mentioned more often. But what has happened to JCP’s business in any mall where Primark has opened nearby?

Natalie Walkley
BrainTrust

Jeff, I agree. The tone of “love those who love us” feels like…”we’ll settle.” I don’t think that is what they meant, but it doesn’t quite sit right with me.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

That would seem to be a 180° on the old Gimbel’s slogan: “Select, Don’t settle”; ironically another “also-ran”… that finally ran out of chances.

David Slavick
BrainTrust

An ad campaign that shows the love is a pretty simple proposition. Who doesn’t want to be loved? The majority of the store is apparel. So feature it. Build on a strong price/value equation and instead of a fictional character (what a cute name – how long will that last?) how about building on your heritage as America’s favorite store to shop? Our household was very loyal to JCP because Arizona Jeans fit my son. Likewise we preferred to shop JCP for the rest of the household and the quality of the private label goods were great. Adopting the Kohl’s cash back/savings bounceback method for a limited time is a nice trial, but how about coming up with a value proposition that is sustainable?

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust
There is a puzzle here. New advertising campaigns aim to attract new customers or validate those that already shop at the chain. JCPenney states that they’re going after the segment that already loves them. The new campaign excitedly talks up all you can do in the store with bright colors and fully stocked shelves. Everyone is happy, and we learn that shopping is back! If you already love JCPenney, you don’t need a marketing campaign to get you back into the store; you’re already there. So the campaign is aimed at the market segment that ought to love JCPenney but has stayed away the past few years. Bringing that customer back is tough. And when they do try it, then comes the real challenge. When they walk through the doors, what will they see? Does the excitement of the spot extend into the store? Are the aisles clean, well lit, and the shelves well-stocked? Are the associates excited to be there and ready to help? Bravo to JCPenney and the team for creating the campaign… Read more »
Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

Having done a lot of work for JCP on their loyalty program, I can say that it’s got to start with the merch. Their core customer is not a trend-seeking Millennial. She’s a woman in her 50s who wants to look current, but not trendy. Kohl’s has scooped them on relevant celebrity collaborations, which resonate with consumers. So whatever happened to Lionel Richie’s home line at JCP? Just curious.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Why is “Penny James” wearing clothes from the ’80s?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Excellent question which nails the point. My guess? Because the people who are trying to talk to all the “Penny James” of the world still don’t know who they are speaking to. It’s still the 1980s in their heads.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

First of all there is a slight contradiction here. Let’s take cosmetics targeting (presumably) people of color. If non-white consumers make up JCP’s “core customers” that means they “love” the retailer despite the fact that JCP hasn’t recognized their needs in the past. Not necessarily a contradiction, but an issue. Also, I’m not hearing how JCP’s addressable consumer market is different from Walmart’s or even the lower end of Target’s. Also it’s an interesting strategy to target a declining base, but it’s a shaky formula for growth.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I am not even aware of one person in terms of “those that love it” — but, you know, you gotta hand it to them, somehow, they’re still open and have an ad budget to boost! Pretty miraculous!

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

I’m not sure that anyone still knows who JCP is in order to love them! At least this time they have identified and are not abandoning their core customer. Wishing them well …

Natalie Walkley
BrainTrust

So I will say that “Penny James” has a great vibe about her, and I like the tagline “shopping is back” but that’s probably more because I’m over the pandemic than excited about shopping at JCP. I think the biggest rub for me is that they aren’t addressing the generational blocker they face. Time will tell if they can love their current audience while changing their narrative with others, but a commercial can’t do that without other major changes.