Will Penney’s Apology Bring Back Shoppers?

Discussion
May 02, 2013

J.C. Penney wants its long lost customers to come back to the chain and it’s created a commercial for that very purpose.

The voiceover reads: "It’s no secret, recently J.C. Penney changed. Some changes you liked and some you didn’t, but what matters from mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing, to listen to you. To hear what you need, to make your life more beautiful. Come back to J.C. Penney. We heard you. Now, we’d love to see you."

According to Forbes, the commercial will run nationally on television this week as well as online. As of 10:50 p.m. ET last night, 26,309 people liked the commercial on Penney’s Facebook page. On YouTube, the video had 144 thumbs up and 72 thumbs down at the same time.

[Image: Penney Apology Spot]

Will long-time shoppers return to J.C. Penney after seeing its television commercial apology? What else will Penney need to do in addition to changing its ads to keep core customers shopping in its stores or on its website?

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31 Comments on "Will Penney’s Apology Bring Back Shoppers?"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

I think it will start to get its core customers back, but that doesn’t mean the company’s not just back where it started from.

Don’t get me wrong, given the damage that was done (most especially financially), getting back to ground zero is an important start. But the quest for the next generation customer will continue. There’s a reason the company went for something different in the first place.

That’s the next, bigger challenge.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

There was one big question left unanswered in that ad: “Why?”

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

Why not just say: Ron’s Gone. Please Forgive Us.

The marketing playbook says, “announce first, then prove it.” What destroyed the JCP brand is still wrong. Get the ship righted, then market.

JCP sounds like a jilted lover who slapped their mate at a bar then woke up the next morning asking for forgiveness. Customers are still stung with the whiplash of changes. “Give us one more chance” isn’t going to bring them back in until someone can clearly say what JCP is; we know what it isn’t.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

Since JCP hasn’t got a concrete plan for recovery, the apology is a waste of time. In fact, it might even make things worse. There is no sense in suggesting all the canned cliches about price, selection, and marketing. JCP is looking very Kmart-esque right now.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

It worked for Pizza Hut, and it works for politicians all the time, why not for JCP? Well the three may not be exactly aligned, but you get the idea. Admitting that you did something wrong (or not as well as you might have) and apologizing seems to work.

However, once you make such a statement, people expect you to live up to it. Will customers find a new JCP shopping experience? Will they find the new experience is no better than the original (pre change)? What JCP does now in its stores will determine its fate.

Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

The “mea culpa” ad isn’t nearly enough, but it’s a start. JCPenney (note that they ditched the new JCP logo in the spot) has been swamped by so much negative publicity in the past few months that some sort of acknowledgement of missteps was in order. The creative problem with this spot is that it was put in place before Ron Johnson and his team were fired, and has too much of the “new JCP” flavor and focus on a young consumer.

But Bob is correct that a more fully developed marketing campaign needs to follow whatever changes Penney decides to put into place—keeping some of the shops, ditching others, returning to a promotional cadence, and so on. I would expect and hope to see a stronger branding effort later in the year, once Penney decides who it wants to be and what consumer it is trying to reach.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

As Bob and David stated, Penney first has to have a plan, then needs to implement it. Once it’s been implemented, then run ads saying, “We listened and we’ve acted.” Otherwise, consumers return to a store that is still in chaos.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

I guess a case can be made for a commercial mea culpa but, having seen the commercial, I’m not sure it gets the job done.

One walks away with the (probably correct) sense that JCP knows it screwed up but isn’t sure how to make it right.

To be authentic, an apology has to have a specific object. Think Chrysler in the Iaccoca years. Those spots said, “Hey, we made some lousy cars,” not, “We tried some things that you didn’t seem to like.”

The real problem is that JCP probably doesn’t KNOW why those shoppers left. Was it EDLP? Was it the decrease in plus sizes? Were they on their way out anyway and no matter what anyone did, they were gone?

So … a vague apology and an amorphous hint that you’ll try to do better may ring an empathy bell with focus groups, but I don’t think it’s enough to cause the cash registers to ring.

George Anderson
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

One of the first lessons I learned when I started out in the ad business was the worst thing that can happen to a bad product is great advertising. If Penney doesn’t have its act together and disappoints its customers yet again, it may not get another chance to win them back.

Kurt Seemar
Guest
Kurt Seemar
9 years 19 days ago

America loves the underdog and hates to see beloved brands die. I think the commercial will have many of the customers they lost give them another try. Whether they will fully return will be dependent upon what happens when they are in the store.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 19 days ago

I second what George Anderson said and will add the often quoted “advertising is the price you pay for having a bad product.” The product is key. The user experience is key. Ads are not going to fool anyone, in the long term.

Focus on systemic and structural problems. Find out what the customers want. Spend money on processes, not PR. Do that and, provided you haven’t run out of runway in a financial sense, customers will come back.

David Zahn
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

For an apology to be accepted, you have to “own” what you did wrong and acknowledge it and provide corrective action. Not, “You may have felt we…” But rather, “we did/didn’t… and we are sorry, and here is how we are going to improve/make it better/not repeat it.”

So, this is a poor apology, a less than stellar marketing campaign, and the comments above should be heeded.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
Martin Mehalchin
9 years 19 days ago

Consumers are fickle and it’s much easier to lose them than it is to win them back. Penney’s will need a lot more than just an ad to get back on track.

Michael Pursel
Guest
Michael Pursel
9 years 19 days ago

Funny, my wife said the exact same thing last night. It’s not good enough to say I’m sorry, there needs to be positive action. She left JCP and said she would never return. Her biggest irritant are the inattentive clerks scurrying about the sales floor, who run for the nearest exit when they think you’re going to stop and ask a question (Similar to Home Depot). JCP would do well to watch and emulate successful grocery chains. The good ones are proactive in customer relationships. Are you listening?

Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
9 years 19 days ago

It should go without saying that one :30 TV spot, regardless of media weight or creative brilliance, will not undo the damage that was done by Ron Johnson, et al. But this execution is timely in terms of a quick pivot and starts with exactly what JCP should be doing: starting an honest dialogue with its customers.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

When I saw this spot last night, it made me think it was a mea culpa aimed toward people like us BrainTrusters and other professional critics.

From the shoppers’ perspective, it may sound a little like blaming the victim. “You hated us, so we had to change … again.”

Still, I thought the tone reflected a visible contrast compared with the most recent JCP advertising. Maybe it will persuade shoppers to take another look.

JCPenney had better be ready to deliver if that happens.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

It is a good start. But as many of us have stated over the months and years, Penney has been searching for a makeover. It is not going to happen with words. The makeover has to come from the staff on the floor face to face with the customers. If there is no change there, this ad is simply words. That’s when they will find out quickly if the problem is more serious than thought. But this is a start. Let’s see what happens next. My overall thought is it might be too late to get more than a moderate portion of the core customers to return.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

This commercial will do nothing. Once you lose a customer to another retailer, saying you’re sorry will not cut it. Consumers have shopping patterns.

Once they change that pattern to another retailer, that new retailer must lose the business or the old retailer must start the process all over with getting trial. Trial requires a reason to visit a store. A simple commercial will not provide that reason. Customers left for any number of reasons — price, in-stock, selection, etc. Unless you change some of the reasons, even if you get trial it will be a onetime event.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

I saw it last night and liked it. JCP can’t wait until they get things right to start trying to get their core customer back. Time and cash is of the essence…some things they don’t have enough of.

So I thought the ad did a descent (not great) job of conveying that many of the things you liked about JCP are back. I give it a half thumb up.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

It could perhaps be seen as a beginning, but it would have been vastly more effective to include just one or two things that have changed, as an incentive to coming back. They’ve made changes already. Why not at least mention them?

This looks and sounds like the creatives at the agency got together and thought it would be fun to do a piece with warm fuzzies, nice piano and all. But there’s not enough message. And I’m sure they charged an absolute fortune to do it. As David Ogilvy famously said, “It’s not creative unless it sells.” I don’t think this piece sold anything.

Lee Kent
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

I just can’t seem to wrap my head around this one. My problem is, I loved what Ron Johnson did to the stores and online. They are both fresh, upbeat, current, fun experiences!

The two negative things are, the new look did not take into consideration JCPs current customer base and the employees were still a lot of the old fuddies who spend more time talking to each other and no time selling the brand. Sorry, but it’s true in the stores I walked!

So again back to my problem with all this: do they really want to go back to the old? Is there a middle ground that addresses old customer and new brand?

It sort of brings me back to the point I made yesterday about RadioShack. Take the path that keeps the old customer in the mix and add on promotions, events that appeal to the wanttahave customer. Cake!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

The consensus here is:

(1) It’s a start;
(2) It’s not enough…follow-through is needed.

And I agree.

I think some of us here are over-analyzing this (which I guess is what analysts do). The ad is humble and (sort of) pathetic and, yes, somehow, somewhere, some recently jilted ex-Penney shopper will be even more peeved. And, yes, the ads could have gone humorous, but 99.9% of us who see it will either go “Good!” or “Finally!! or just shrug our shoulders and go back to wondering whether gas prices will go up or down this summer.

George Anderson
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

Interesting news reported by Bloomberg. The commercial was developed before Ron Johnson left the company.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 19 days ago

My jaw dropped when I saw this ad last night. JCP needs to remember the adage, “Don’t complain, don’t explain.” Just install an improved strategy and save your ad dollars for promoting it. Why invite disenfranchised customers back to your stores before you’re ready to “wow” them?

Bill Hanifin
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

It would be refreshing in today’s world if people did come back to JCP as result of this advert. I bet that people who were regular shoppers and became disappointed will give them another try.

The key is, has JCP done the needed work to be ready when the loyalists charge through the doors?

Brian Kelly
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

JCP is asking for input. It must actively listen and relevantly respond. Malls face a challenge, Johnson was trying to solve and now old/new guy must do what he didn’t do before. Or as we like to say, “retail ain’t for sissies.”

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

Gets me all misty-eyed. But it won’t bring back customers, especially to a period that is long gone. Instead of costly, over-produced TV spots, how about using the media of long-time customers (newspapers) and young, hip customers (social media) and put out a promise to try and give the customer the best experience…if that doesn’t happen, JCP will offer a reward/compensation for breaking that promise.

Get with it retailers…it’s a new age!

Shilpa Rao
Guest
9 years 19 days ago

It sounds sincere, a from-the-heart appeal, and customers like that, so surely the core customers would return. But when they return they need to find what they expected and more and that’s critical to the company’s success.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
9 years 18 days ago

I happened to see the ad last night and my reaction was that the last sentence in the ad is wrong. After all the build up about how they have listened and are implementing changes, they say they are looking forward to “seeing” the customer. Instead, I think the ad should say they are looking forward to “showing” the customer their new (retro) approach.

Mike B
Guest
Mike B
9 years 18 days ago

But they didn’t change anything… it is still the lighter product mix in the store. The lower quality private label items installed by Ron are still there.

Strike three.

William Passodelis
Guest
9 years 14 days ago

I agree with Mr. Mehalchin. It is difficult to get people back through your doors once not going there becomes their norm. I HOPE that this is a start to reversing that. I also agree with “storewanderer” that the return of some of the previous vendors to improve the quality of the private label offerings would also be very helpful. Personally, I HOPE they are successful!

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