JCP Backtracks

Last February, our fearless leader wrote this blog about the launch of the new JCPenney branding. And almost exactly a year later the new hip JCP is starting to slip on some of its old brand clothing. The company has announced it will be reintroducing hundreds of discontinued promotions, these will be pushing price over fashion or variety. So a very target-like effort for the past year is being set aside to try a more Wal-Mart approach. I can imagine the conversation in the corner office at company headquarters – “Alright, we all agree, we’re not real good at being Target. Hey, why don’t we try what Wal-Mart is doing.” And according to an article I read yesterday, JCP is now so fixated on price point that stores will be introducing new price tags that include not just how much an item costs but also what competitors are charging for the same item.

In 2012, JCP had over a 25% decline in same store sales. The brand is struggling to find and embrace a Dominant Selling Idea (DSI) that delivers meaningful differentiation. Company leadership is confused. And so are customers. And I would bet that management and the sales staff are just as lost. Strong brands are able to single out and own a leadership claim in the one thing that they do better than the competition and that becomes the selling difference, or tipping point that drives us to be brand loyal customers. A customer at Target goes in expecting good prices and fashion trends. Wal-Mart shoppers rush into the store expecting friendly workers and the best possible value. These companies’ customers expect these things because they always get them. The brand promise is fulfilled. And consumer trust has been earned.

JCPenney is a brand without a permanent positioning home. Last year, through its aggressive campaign efforts and brand image makeover, it looked like it was staking claim as an even better Target-type option. But it has not followed through with its promise. The messaging promised one thing and the store experience delivered inconsistency and lack of brand follow through. And now it looks like the company has jumped into its brand RV and will be traveling to Wal-Mart country to stake a claim. How long will it stay? That’s to be determined. But one thing is for sure, without a permanent positioning that is owned and embraced by JCP and desired by consumers, eventually the company will find itself completely off the map of relevant retail department stores.

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