Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Department Store Finally Evolves

Well maybe it already did, through Kohls.  But I digress...back on topic.

Yesterday JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson announced sweeping changes in an effort to refresh the brand, and the department store "way" of selling product. 

It's about time. 

During Mr. Johnson's tenure at Apple, his team, "always parked at the department stores...because there 'weren't any cars.'.  You know you have a problem when people are using your parking lots to visit other retail locations other than your own.  Mr. Johnson, while noting that JC Penney was in it's 110th year, said, "I believe the department store is the No. 1 opportunity in American retail. And this isn't something I decided last June when I took the job. This is something I decided 10, 15 years ago."

So what does this new opportunity look like? 

First, it starts with a dramatically more realistic product pricing structure.  Consumers rarely purchase products at full price.  In any economy, up or down, consumers are more willing to part with their dollars when products cost less, ie: when they are on sale.  Mr. Johnson, acknowledging this, is leading JC Penney to adopt a "fair and square" pricing model.  It's this simple: If a T-shirt that usually is priced at $14 but typically sold for closer to $6, will be priced at $7. This puts it right in line with what a consumer was actually paying for that shirt.  If it's a featured product, it will be priced at $6. Clearance time: $4. This change alone should help to drive sales.  Why?  It allows JC Penney to sell product at prices consumers are willing to pay, instead of constantly holding onto inventory, and hoping to clear it out every quarter. 

The second thing Mr. Johnson is doing is completely revamping JC Penney's promotional calendar and spending.  Currently, JC Penney's sales year has 590 promotional events.  Mr. Johnson wants to reduce that to 12.  The reason: noise.  When you are constantly promoting promotion after promotion, it creates "noise" for the consumer, and eventually it all blends together and the consumer doesn't know what to focus on.  As a retailer, you become less relevant and harder to keep track of. 

To illustrate his point, Mr. Johnson had presentation attendees walk down a hall covered with old ads and circulars, calling it the "Hall of Hell." Promotional spending will also change; instead of $2 million per promotion, JC Penney will now devote $80 million a month towards entire product line promotion.

This is so refreshing.  To finally see a department store (or any big-box retailer other than Walmart) understand that their pricing structure and promotional model is so out of touch with consumer buying habits is amazing.  For that brand to make realistic ... frankly common sense changes ... is fantastic.  I sincerely believe that, if successful, JC Penney will force their competitors to re-brand and re-price.

Consumers will be the beneficiaries of these changes.  Products will sell for lower, more realistic prices.  Sales will increase, and retailers may begin to see the growth that they have been hoping for. 

I hope JC Penney succeeds.


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