J.C. Penney's Plan to Lure Back Its Lost Customers


Earlier this year, J.C. Penney (JCP) CEO Ron Johnson made an about-face on his "no coupons" pricing strategy after recognizing that it was driving away once-loyal customers. Now the company is making another bid to regain lost shoppers by bringing back many of the clothing brands that it ditched as part of its makeover.

Speaking before Bank of America's 2013 Consumer and Retail Conference, J.C. Penney CFO Ken Hannah acknowledged that the revamp of its clothing collections had scared off some of the retailer's core customers.

"You're going to see some assortment that was edited out that the customer has been screaming loud and clear that's been missing," he said. "So the basic denim, khakis, St. John's Bay for women -- [that was a] huge, huge miss when we edited that out and didn't offer an alternative for that customer. They voted with their money and took it somewhere else, and that's something we need to address."

Hannah said that these phased-out brands will start returning to stores next month.

It's the first time we've heard a J.C. Penney executive acknowledge that the company's apparel revamp has been a serious misstep. But as Hannah notes, customers have been complaining for a while that the new JCP no longer caters to their fashion tastes. Last week we ran emails from several disgruntled shoppers who said they stopped shopping at J.C. Penney because they no longer found clothes they liked there.

In fact, many of those emails specifically identified the removal of the St. John's Bay brand as their cause for leaving. With the brand -- and other "basic" clothes -- coming back, will those former customers give J.C. Penney another chance?

Readers Weigh In

Tiffany Hiza says she's happy to learn that St. John's Bay would be making a comeback.

"I would be very excited to see the St. John's Bay line return!" she writes. "They had some of the best fitting tank tops and tees on the market that seem to fit a 'real woman's' body regardless of age... [I'm] hoping to see the sales and merchandise I liked return soon."

Another former customer, Jane Malone, also indicated that the brand's return could get her back in the stores.

"If the clothes I love come back I will give JCP another chance," she writes.

Hilarie Ryals was more cautiously optimistic, and told us that the retailer would need to do two things with the relaunch if it wants to win back its wayward customers.

"Number one, they must commit to offering the same fit, quality, and classic design as before," she tells us. "If they offer items that are poor quality, use weird trendy colors and styles that don't fit well, the relaunch will fail."

Secondly, she says the company should apologize.

"They must acknowledge that they made a mistake and offer an apology to the customers," she writes. "As silly as it may sound, you have no idea of the negative emotional impact that JC Penney caused their long-term core customers who were kicked to the curb by the discontinuation of legacy brands such as St. John's Bay."

Striking a Balance

Clearly the old brands are important to J.C. Penney's disaffected customers, and it sounds like bringing those options back may indeed get some of them back in stores.

But it's worth noting that the new styles have some appeal, too. Johnson has spent weeks talking up Joe Fresh, a Canadian apparel brand that is the latest to get the "store-within-a-store" treatment at J.C. Penney. The brand officially debuted last Friday, and early reports indicate that the new collection was well-received by shoppers over the weekend. That's a bit of much-needed vindication for Johnson's strategy and suggests that he's not about to ditch his prized boutiques in favor of the old standbys.

We're eager to see how stores strike the balance when the "basics" make their comeback next month, and we'll also be interested to see if the move actually succeeds in winning back lapsed customers. But shoppers hoping to see a complete return to the "old" J.C. Penney shouldn't get their hopes up.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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I am discussed with JC Penney's!!!!!! I have 2 sisters and all 3 of us buy the stretch Saint John Bay dress pants., I wrote the company with both of my sisters and we all LOVE them, but they told me they would be back in stock in May 2013 and they are still OUT OF STOCK. Someone told me that they heard that they will be back in stock in Oct. 2013, WHAT WE CANT ORDER THEM IN THE SUMMER???

July 22 2013 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was very disappointed by the quality of the clothes, with the prices slashes. I will not plan on buying anything if the quality is not back to the way it used to be. I always bought my sons HUSKY jeans there. They were a terrible quality that I would not even purchase them. JCP used to be a very nice dept. store. I noticed they brought back the St Johns Bay, if they are the cheap quality, I will never go to a JCP again.

May 16 2013 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carrie Miller

I was so upset they didnt have the summer clothes when i came in to buy.

May 10 2013 at 8:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I live in San Diego and can go over the border into Tijuana and find better quality than what JCP now tries to sell.

April 15 2013 at 2:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm 28 and I haven't found any clothing worth buying in JCP in 3-5 years. I used to only shop for my clothing in that store. I would go all the time with my mother and my grandmothers and now none of us shop there at all (we went to kohls). Bringing back SJB may be the only thing that will get me back in the store. Their pants were the only pants I've ever found that lasted more then a month at my work before getting worn out. So I really don't care what price you sell them for or how difficult they are to find in the store. If JCP gets them back I need to buy them... Not want, Need.

April 03 2013 at 7:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Solstes Andrews

I grew up with Penny's...everyone I know shopped there. NOT ANYMORE! Not even my kids will shop there because they took out all the brands that we specifically shopped there for. The main reason for losing us is taking away St. John's Bay clothing. The crap they brought in is very ill fitting... even for my grand children. We are so disappointed in Penney's for letting us down and of course we shop elsewhere. I paid off my credit card (that I had and used for well over 20 years) and closed the account. IF Penny's does not follow through with that rumor that they are bringing St. John's Bay and a few others back in May.... It will be the end of Penny's. I don't know where they dug up this Johnson guy but they need to unload him real quick!!!

March 30 2013 at 5:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I, too, grew up with JCP; however, as I have aged, I find that JCP no longer offers anything for us baby boomers. We want/need DESIGNERS that address our "problem areas" and we want to be STYLISH as well!!!! "If you build it, they will come!!!"

While it is important to appeal to the young, thank you for reconsidering your direction. We baby boomers will be waiting to see if you can answer our challenge!

March 23 2013 at 9:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My time with JCPenneys is over.Slowly I have watched what I love about the company disappear.First the 'big catalog' stopped arriving in the mail,and from there its all DOWNHILL.I canceled my charge card almost a year ago.I have shopped at Penneys since I was a young child and I am approaching 50.Soooo sad to watch this company wither away but it's to late now.

March 22 2013 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I heartily agree that St. John's Bay is the most missed brand. i loved the quality and weight of the sweat pants. I walked through the store 7 days ago . . . everything is rockin' pink, rockin' orange, rockin lime and block prints. That might be fine if you're a teenager. I'm over 60 . . I did not spend one dime . . .nothing i wanted to buy. This was the day before Joe Fresh was suppoosed to unveil the new line. I had a brochure in the mail that day . . all stuff for teenagers. I liked the A.N.A. brand but i can't even find something in that brand. Who wears all the pyschedlic prints, fluffy sleeves, tunics, The jewelry department is nice. Whatever happened to hanging clothes on hangers? My biggest complaint would be playing loud music in the store and several different genres in the same area of the store. Nothing would chase me out faster than that. Kohls is terrible about that . . . so is Macys

March 22 2013 at 11:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I use to shop there all the time and bought from just about every department.They use to have great sales on team sports clothing too what a shame I do not even like walking through the store anymore.

March 22 2013 at 10:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply