What JCPenney Took From Apple And Gap

With JCPenney’s recent transformation, it’s clear the department store has taken some bright ideas from Apple, and learned a thing or two from mistakes by Gap.



JCPenney has been in the news a lot lately. Although still a
beloved brand with millions of Americans, it’s a brand that has become a little
dusty and tired. In fashion, it seems like all the brand love and energy these
days is for specialty retailers like J Crew and H&M, while department
stores struggle to define their unique difference and their relevance to

Last year, JCPenney hired Ron Johnson, who previously had
help transform Target into an ‘affordably chic’ retailer, as well as defined
Apple’s retail experience (while redefining retail for many). As CEO, he’s recently
about the changes that are coming from JCPenney. And although the
recently communications have involved the creation and launch of a new visual
identity for JCPenney, the change plans for the brand are much broader than
that. His plan for change has made it clear he’s brought with him several
lessons from Apple as well as learned a few lessons from watching other
retailers struggle. Here are three lessons JCPenney seems to have gotten right
from Apple…and one learning from Gap’s failure last year.

1. It’s
More than Just A Marketing Change


JCPenney is talking about a full-scale transformation of the
experience of shopping, changing their strategy for regular sales (eliminating
most of them), simplifying their pricing structure (into three tiers), transforming
the in-store experience, adding services to their mix of product offers,
upgrading or enhancing their merchandise and what seems to be a new more
consumer-centric philosophy about making shopping simpler and more enjoyable.
Clearly Johnson understands that transformation doesn’t start on the surface
with communication. It starts inside with a simple point of view and a change
to everything (operations, experience, merchandising, pricing, communications)
based on that point of view.

2. The
Experience IS The Brand

In his most recent announcements, Johnson has talked about
how he wants consumers to feel when they shop. How he wants JCPenney to be a
place shoppers like to come and hang out (knowing full well that hanging out
will most likely lead to browsing and then buying). Although to some it may be
counter intuitive to not push products on consumers as fast and hard as
possible, and not stuff the store with as much merchandise as it could hold.
But with its clean, inviting low-stress stores, Apple has certainly been
successful at creating an in-store experience that is welcoming and exciting to
be a part of, whether you’re in the market to buy something or not.


3. You Must Manage The Company You Keep

Brands today are not just defined by what they stand for or
what they offer, but by the company they keep. J Crew sells Red Wing Boots.
Target has a relationship with Paul Frank. Brands get some of their energy and
excitement from ‘hanging out’ with other energetic and exciting brands.
JCPenney is following suit. Relationships with Martha Stewart, the Olsen Twins,
, Nicole Miller and Nanette Lepore have been announced. And JCPenney’s
success with their Sephora ‘store-within-a-store’ concept is being embraced, as
they transform into a one-stop series of in-store boutiques.

4. It Isn’t Just A Logo Change


The one lesson JCPenney has clearly learned was one that left
Gap in hot water last year. Although JCPenney has announced a
new red, white and blue logo
, the focus of the communication about the
‘new’ JCPenney hasn’t been about the logo. Instead, it’s been about everything
else…all the things that are represented by that logo. In a marketing
environment where brands are defined by the actions they take, not just the
promises they make, JCPenney and Mr. Johnson have put first things first,
defining how JCPenney is going to be different, not just look
different. With the markets and some observers skeptical,
it will be exciting to see if Mr. Johnson can pull off the transformation of
another storied and well-loved brand.

[Image: Flickr user Michael Goodin]


About the author

Russ is an expert on brands and sustainability, and currently serves as Global Director, Strategy and Insights for Siegel+Gale. Since becoming a marketing professional, Russ’s focus has been helping companies across the globe deliver remarkably clear and unexpectedly fresh brand experiences. His expertise includes corporate and brand positioning, communications strategy, account management as well as new product ideation and formulation. Russ is a frequent commentator on brands, business, and sustainability, and has been a guest lecturer at the University of California’s Haas School of Business and San Francisco State University


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