J.C. Penney kills coupons, steps out with new marketing plan


Courtney Peltier and Larry Lopes have known each other for years. He was her softball coach when she was in high school.

They also have something else in common – they love shopping at J.C. Penney.

So it wasn’t that extraordinary that the two should cross paths while at the Warwick Mall store yesterday morning or that they should strike up a conversation lasting a good ten minutes.

What Lopes realized is that yesterday was the first day the 110-year old retailer was doing away with coupons, special sales and other gimmicks to get shoppers to buy. Lopes had seen the notorious (some would say obnoxious) ads of people yelling and people buried in useless expired coupon. He came to see for himself, the new, colorful and zippy look of the store, what it had to offer and, most important, the prices.

Peltier hadn’t followed all the hype and the new J.C. Penney trend engineered by its CEO, Ron Johnson. Johnson is credited with Target’s cheap chic look, which he molded over 15 years with the chain retailer. He then went on to work for about ten years at Apple where discounting is an anathema and service is the norm.

According to industry interviews with Johnson, the store has done away with most of the 590 sales it ran last year because they were a turn off for customers. In place of the sales the store will offer everyday pricing. In addition, according to reports, Johnson is looking to transform the store into a collection of specialty shops that will replace racks upon racks of clothing.

Peltier was disappointed to learn there won’t be as many sales.

“I’m at J. C. Penney all the time,” she said, “I like those coupons coming in.”

When told low prices would be consistent, she changed her tune.

“I forget my coupons half the time anyway,” she said.

“As a guy shopper who doesn’t like coupons it’s great,” said Lopes. He clutched a plastic bag with a pair of shorts.

“I’m going on vacation,” he declared.

That, naturally, prompted the question, “Where?”

Lopes filled in the details for Peltier, saying he would be taking a cruise to Mexico.

Store manager Susan Urschel said both store customers and associates are excited by the store’s new “simpler and cleaner” look and “fair and square” pricing. She said there are red, white and blue prices. The red is the everyday value price while white is the month-long price and blue is best prices, she said.

While coupons may be a thing of the past, Urschel said the store would be running sales twice monthly.

Mall manager Domenic Schiavone called the store changes dramatic and “another reason for people to come in and check them out.” He said the mall’s J. C. Penney “has a seasoned team that has always been focused on customer service.”

As for Johnson’s plan, Schiavone said the store is offering more uniform and consistent prices that won’t have shoppers wondering if they wait another couple of days whether they’ll get a better deal. He thinks it will have appeal to shoppers. He also points to changes in the store including wider aisles and less cluttered displays. The word “sale” was not detectable in the store except for an area designated as clearance sale.

In an interview with American Communications Group appearing in yesterday’s digital newsletter in response to questions why he selected J. C. Penney, Johnson described the retailer “as one of a handful of great American brands that seemed like a doormat, that had been a great part of the fabric of America for almost a century but it just wasn’t modern. It wasn’t top of mind.”


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