Does the jcpenney store experience live up to its new marketing?

The new jcpenney logo echoes the American flag

In the last month jcpenney rolled out a bold new marketing plan, implementing a revised pricing strategy, updated logo and sophisticated looking TV commercials and catalogues. Its new positioning line is “fair and square,” which is aimed at simplifying the buying experience and echoing the company’s core values.

The remake has been an impressive effort so far, but I wondered how this new brand experience was being executed in its store. So I took my camera and went to find out.

A truly effective brand is lived from the inside out and the brand strategy should be experienced at every consumer touch point. That’s something Ron Johnson should know well. He’s the new jcpenney CEO who previously launched Apple’s retail stores. Now he’s trying to resurrect jcpenney from decades of decay. Here’s what I found when I visited just one local jcpenney store.

I started by looking at the catalogue that came in my Sunday newspaper – a beautifully designed 12-page booklet that focused on the color orange and displayed a simplified layout, showcasing relatively few items.

JC Penney catalogue cover

JC Penney catalogue cover

It looks fresh and modern, and the new jcpenney square is used throughout. The people in the catalogue are young, vibrant and hip – not exactly how I would normally describe jcpenney.

Walking up to the store I noticed the new jcp square on the glass door at the front of the store. Good start. (though I’m not ure why the catalogue says “march crush” and the door says “breezy march.”)

Immediately inside, orange squares showcasing new clothing are strategically placed at major touch points throughout the store.

I was even impressed that the male model in the catalogue actually showed up in a display in the men’s department. Good carry through of the brand experience from home to store.

Page from catalogue

Model from catalogue appears in store display.

Part of the store was under construction for a new upscale Sephora beauty department. Promising.

And jcp is carrying a bargain line of Joseph Aboud menswear.

It’s clear jcp is trying hard, but the transformation is far from complete.

The store still has acres of low-grade, dingy, white tile that reminds me of some nasty bathrooms. And there are wide open spaces that look like a sea of stuff — rack upon rack of clothes.

Unflattering tile throughout the store.

The store still has some vast, cluttered spaces.

And a look at the sales associates tells me they never got word of the makeover. Some look like the ladies who checked me out at the Woolworth store decades ago. Jcp should take a clue from stores like Abercrombie, which hires young, attractive workers who always wear Abercrombie clothes. Now that’s executing your brand at every touch point. (Though it’s not without controversy) .

Published reports say the jcp store makeovers are in progress nationwide, but that it will take three years to complete.

With a commitment to low prices, I am not sure if the product quality is improving and what type of clothing the customers should expect. I wonder if the sophistication of the marketing will be fully carried through in the product lines ?

Jcp has a new series of highly polished television spots that will surely drive new sampling of the old retailer, but the question remains, will they return?

Will customers feel the marketing over-promised and the store under-delivered? Since JC Penney’s lost $87 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, it’s a gamble desperately needed.

The makeover is still clearly a work in progress – and it has moved with breathtaking speed since Johnson took over in November 2011. I just hope he can move fast enough to improve the shopping experience so it’s as exciting as its new campaign.

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About Matt Silverman

Matt Silverman is a marketing and communications executive who proactively manages corporate reputations and builds brands. Matt is the Vice President and Managing Director of R&R Partners, a marketing and communications agency ranked among top 50 in U.S. by Adweek. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of R&R Partners. View all posts by Matt Silverman

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