When I first read that J.C. Penney was going to sell appliances, I thought it was another example of brand confusion. No one associates Penney’s with appliances. That’s what Sears is for, right?
Nope. I’ve been proven wrong. J.C. Penney (JCPenney, if you’re nasty) stopped selling appliances in 1983, but it reintroduced them to 500 stores last year and it’s worked so well that 100 more stores will now sell them.
Here’s how CEO Marvin Ellison put it: “Many years ago JCPenney was a strong player in the home install space. Now that we have a large mall competitor donating market share in this category, we feel the timing is right for us to test a series of home install initiatives.”
In other words, if this was the movie The Wedding Singer, J.C. Penney would be Jon Lovitz to Sears’ Adam Sandler.
Ellison also said, “There is a tremendous opportunity to capture additional revenue and minimize our dependence on apparel by catering our services to female homeowners who represent over 70% of our loyal customer base, and make the primary decisions regarding any home renovations.” So yeah, Penney’s also wants its lady customers to spend more money. This is like a Bizarro version of “The Softer Side of Sears“.
The main reason I’m skeptical of J.C. Penney’s new venture is because the company has had so many other short-lived changes over the past few years. The brand has had three different logos in the past six years. The one used for the sign in the photo at the top of this post was introduced in 2011 and retired in 2012. Penney’s has also had three CEOs in the past six years.
The logo and CEO changes are linked. At some point before 2011, J.C. Penney decided it needed a change. Former Apple retail innovator Ron Johnson became CEO in 2011. Under him, J.C. Penney had a rather dramatic makeover. It became simply “JCP” and featured stores-within-stores and an Apple Store-like “denim bar”. It also went the T.J. Maxx route and stopped offering sales and coupons. Its clothes became much more stylish. For the first time, J.C. Penney was interesting.
It was also confusing. Personally, in 2012, J.C. Penney had dropped off my radar. There wasn’t a store close to me at the time, so I only shopped at Penney’s when visiting my parents. I didn’t have cable. I get my news from Twitter. I learned about JCP and its changes from my mom. My point is that while JCP may have targeted younger consumers, it didn’t do a very good job of it. Shoppers had to be in the store to know what was going on. As it turned out, sales plummeted and Johnson was fired after 17 months.
In addition to its poor communication, I blame JCP’s failure on the fact that there were so many changes at once. In trying for a different demographic, Penney’s alienated its existing customers. I completely understand why it quickly reverted to its old self, but I also don’t trust a brand that goes through two overhauls in two years. Now it’s trying to be the new Sears, but how do I know it won’t be the new Macy’s in a year?
Of course, J.C. Penney’s appliance department is still in test mode, so it’s too soon to treat it like it’s a complete change for the brand. It’s only fair. Still, I won’t be convinced of its success until it includes all stores. Let’s see where it is in December.
Image credit: Jones77/Wikimedia Commons.