Jensen: J.C. Penney is ‘thinking different’


J.C. Penney’s full page ad in the Wall Street Journal, introducing the company’s new efforts headed by Ron Johnson.

Derek Jensen

You’ve probably seen the commercial where everyone is shouting “Noo!” due to the massive amounts of discount fliers they keep receiving in the mail. Today, people are becoming more aware that these discounts are not really a true discount. All they are getting is a reason to buy something at a cost that should be the same on a regular day.

On Wednesday, J.C. Penney is changing how discounts are done and how we all see a store.

In the Wall Street Journal, J.C. Penney printed a full-page ad that introduced the company’s new efforts as, “No more pricing games. Just great prices from the start.” The ad continued to say, “We’re not interested in being the biggest store or the flashiest store. We want to be your favorite store.”

What Steve Jobs did to change the computer buying experience is what Ron Johnson is doing to change the shopping experience of one of the oldest stores. J.C. Penney will be celebrating its 110th birthday. It will be doing so with a “think different” approach that both Jobs and Johnson applied to build and grow their retail stores. This ad and commercial is just the beginning.

Why the Apple connection? Johnson was the senior vice president of retail operations for Apple. When Jobs was dreaming of his retail experience, he hired Johnson to see it through, and I can’t think of anything short of excellent work. But what happened in November of last year would shock the world. Johnson left his work at Apple to become the CEO of J.C. Penney.

Many wondered why he would leave Apple as many also didn’t know that before he joined Apple in 2000 he was the vice president of merchandising for Target. A few days ago, Johnson stated the reason he left Apple for J.C. Penney. He said, “Some think this decision is counterintuitive. I feel like this is the exact time at J.C. Penney when I joined Apple.”

Bloomberg Businessweek had this to say in relation to his move: “Johnson’s turnaround plan, scheduled to be complete by the end of 2015, borrows from his Target and Apple playbook. One theme: making shopping simpler. Johnson complained yesterday that J.C. Penney stores had too many items and sales events.”

The J.C. Penney investors are reported as being happy about this move, and I’m happy to know that we can see a different kind of store experience here in Ames at the North Grand Mall.

Back in August 2004, when Apple opened its store in Jordan Creek Mall, people fled to the store over the course of a year whether they cared about Apple or not. People were curious. They were curious to know how an experience being the talk of the town could be so special or different.

The residents of Ames and students of Iowa State will have that same chance starting tomorrow. Whether you consider yourself a J.C. Penney shopper, one that has only gone a few times or one that has never been there, the fact that there’s a new shopping experience will intrigue you.

I wouldn’t have high expectations that are comparable to an Apple Store experience because this plan has just begun and isn’t set to finish until 2015. I know that what is being done over at the north end of North Grand Mall is what will be happening across America. The way we shop is changing. More of us spend our money online rather than at a brick-and-mortar store. Over the years, these brick-and-mortar stores such as J.C. Penney have lost their touch. These stores feel their future is solely online.

Johnson is ensuring that won’t be true of any store experience. He and J.C. Penney are thinking differently and the experience created will be similar to a Starbucks or Apple Store. J.C. Penney will change retail and if everything works, their’s will be “the” way.

J.C. Penney wants to be your favorite store and you can’t begin to think about that unless you take a visit.