Clearly I'm in the minority, but I 100% think that Jill and her team have this on the right track. They've done their research, they are testing rather than rolling out knee jerk strategies that had no basis in what their customers or potential customers are looking for. I suspect this test will be successful The key will be in the execution of rolling it out to more stores in the chain.
What I appreciate so much about this initiative is that it is true to the J.C. Penney brand and aligns with Jill's stated vision for how she was going to turn Penney's around by getting back to retailing basics. They are not wildly changing their pricing strategy without testing it first; they are not randomly deciding to bring in appliances to the product mix. They are building on a private brand that is already a part of who J.C. Penney is and making it more relevant and exciting as well as getting some press.
I don't think anyone expects this move alone to right the ship, but a series of moves like these, based on updated vision of retailing basics, certainly could. Kudos to Jill Soltau and Michelle Wlazo for taking a low risk, well thought out approach to invigorating the Penney's brand. I think James Cash Penney would approve.
In our area, Meijer excels in well priced grocery and HABA and struggles with general merchandise. Urban grocers tend to be higher priced, so if they can maintain their low prices, eliminate items that are probably even less relevant in high density areas (their RTW screams more budget than hipster) and play up the local vibe, I think they have a winner.
I think you are right on the money. Today's differentiator from online retail is to be experiential, or for a cause. "Girl Power" is a very strong initiative right now, and the fact that this driving force is not relegated to one age group and does focus on the gender that does most of the shopping.
Ian, if they are talking about people who spend $620 annually on average, they are probably buying more than screws, washers or plaster. I agree, you likely don't need an online search for that, but if you are looking for more decorative items (faucets, vanities, knobs etc.) you are going to want to do some online research on selection rather than running around to a number of stores, even if you are very loyal customer (Full disclosure, my partner has flipped homes and I've been his purchaser for such things.) Ace or True Value can certainly have this kind of loyalty for homogeneous items such as those you mention. For other items it's harder to earn such loyalty.
I remember when Victoria's Secret first opened. The genius of Leslie Wexner (or someone who worked for him) introduced us to the concept of experiential retail. In a day where undergarments were sold from a sea of generic chrome t-stands or maybe a fixture that held packages of Bali bras (a true nightmare for sales associates) Victoria's Secret introduced us to boutique stores with tufted ceilings, velvet poufs and armoires with classical music playing in the background, romanticizing and elevating the lingerie buying experience. At some point they transitioned into the over the top sexualized version of the company.
I think it's possible for a savvy retailer to re-envision the company once again to a "Strong is the new Sexy" or similar mentality that could lead to success and wouldn't be too far from their current model to be implausible. It would need a great strategic plan, a major product overhaul, and time to implement, but it could be done.
Rich, this is where you lost me. "Yet when does our culture actually encourage bullying, harassment, etc? It does not, and never has. In fact, it has always done the opposite." Our culture has certainly tolerated both bullying and harassment for a very long time and I think that is the point of the ad. If nearly one in five (likely a low number) of women have been sexually assaulted (note: assaulted, not harassed, so the percent harassed is considerably higher) how can you say that our society has done the opposite of condoning it? I'm not sure if they are getting more positive or negative feedback for creating this ad, but kudos to them for taking a stance for supporting basic good morals. I don't see how that can be a bad thing.
Full disclosure, I worked with Jill at Carson Pirie Scott, probably about 20 years ago back when she was a relatively new buyer. She took what was a sleepy little knits and sweater department and transformed it into a powerhouse. Clearly, turning around J.C. Penney is a much bigger job than turning around a department, but she is a strong, smart and determined woman. Her thoughtful approach to analyzing the situation and acting on the data, rather than making knee-jerk decisions, is the right one. It won't be an easy task, but my money is on her.
I can't say I'm overly fond of either of these ads. The Kohl's ad is just a remake of last year's ad. The format must have performed well for them if they are revisiting it. While the Macy's piece has the sentimental slant somehow it falls flat. The female astronaut was almost a distraction. In theory it seems like a good story, but I thought it was confusing and un-relatable.
Their private brands weren't necessarily a strength, but their community nameplates definitely are. Most people in the Midwest couldn't care less what happens to Macy's, but Chicago still mourns Marshall Fields, and Minneapolis misses Daytons. Carson's, Younkers and Boston Store may not mean much to you, but they have a rich history in the communities they serve since 1854, 1856 and 1897 respectively. That is where their opportunity lies if they can bring back a streamlined operation not overly burdened by debt.
The pros for it working is that they've got "home town" name plates in each of the markets that they serve, making it more nostalgic to their customers, they aren't saddled with huge debt, and they will have a nimble infrastructure that they can make whatever they imagine it to be. The down side is they currently have zero infrastructure, so it will have to be built from scratch. Depending on the financial support and the leadership behind this movement, I think they have a shot.
Realistically, I can't see them alienating their breakfast base with a marketing campaign. Is anybody going to say, "I used to love their breakfast, but now that they're serving burgers there's no way I'm going back!"? They are trying to expand their customer base and I applaud their bold approach to marketing it. I'm assuming they will continue to serve breakfast all day, so it's also a strong option for a group divided on whether they want breakfast or burgers.