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What retailers can learn from J.C. Penney

What retailers can learn from J.C. Penney

J.C. Penney is one of the oldest and most revered department stores in the U.S., but the company isn't without its faults. The store has been in the spotlight recently after its new CEO, Ron Johnson, who once worked for Apple made some rather surprising changes. The store lost $4 billion of revenue while Johnson was at the helm, in part because of some big changes he brought to the company, and ultimately he was ousted earlier this month, according to Forbes. Now, J.C. Penney has released an advertisement directly apologizing to shoppers in an attempt to lure them back. What can traditional, smaller retailers learn from this saga?

Taking risks
Retailers play a difficult balancing act of trying to take chances to stay fresh while still keeping the traits that customers value most. J.C. Penney's risks were too much, too soon, it seems. Johnson seemed to think that what worked at Apple would work at the department store – he added a denim counter reminiscent of the "genius bar" to help customers find the right sizes and equipped employees at the store with tablet computers. On top of this, Johnson put a "moratorium" on sales and promotions, something that may have made sense to those within the industry, but a move that outraged customers.

That being said, it's essential for stores big and small to take risks. Customers will begin to see your store as stale if you don't make changes occasionally. However, you can expect that occasionally, these changes may not go over well with customers, and in such scenarios, you must react quickly.

A straight apology
J.C. Penney's ad is unique because it's so direct. The company hired former Coca-Cola ad developer Sergio Zyman to create the spot, according to Bloomberg. While the advert doesn't list any specific issues customers raised, the voiceover comes right out and says, "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."

This is the core lesson to be taken away from J.C. Penney's misstep. It's essential that you listen to customers and respond appropriately. For example, you can post pictures of your new display tables or adult and child mannequins on your social media accounts and ask your shoppers to tell you what they think. If the response is overwhelmingly negative, it may be time to reconsider the changes.