When Ron Johnson left Apple to work for J.C. Penney, he tried to replicate the cool, hip feeling of Apple stores in the J.C. Penney stores.  He reduced the use of central wrap stands and instead armed sales associates with mobile checkout devices.  Although there were more places for customers to check out, they actually perceived that there were fewer locations.  Johnson also allowed sales associates to wear whatever they wanted (provided it was purchased at J.C. Penney). He encouraged associates to wear jeans and graphic t-shirts.

What successor Mike Ullman is now learning is that these policies actually made sales associates invisible to customers.  For the back-to-school shopping center, J.C. Penney associates will be outfitted with red lanyards for easy identification.  The dress code might be reversed back to J.C. Penney uniforms in the near future.

Ullman also realized that customers are distrustful of mobile technology.  Some customers also didn’t want to hand over their credit cards to associates that didn’t look like J.C. Penney employees.  In addition, customers also wanted bags for their merchandise, and it was hard to obtain these from a mobile check out.  Ullman has since outfitted J.C. Penney stores with 2,800 wheeled carts that can be moved to various locations and act as a mobile wrap station to check out customers and also store bags and print receipts.

Ullman is hoping to get everything in place for back-to-school shopping as children’s apparel accounts for 12% of J.C. Penney’s sales.

Discussion Question:

What Johnson-era J.C. Penney Store policies are being changed and how?


SOURCE: Matt Townsend, Bloomberg, June 13, 2013