J.C. Penney Searching for the ‘Perfect Fit’
It's no secret that J.C. Penney has dealt with its fair share of challenges in recent years. Following the disastrous tenure of former CEO Ron Johnson, which saw the retail chain disenfranchise its loyal customer base by eliminating discounts and coupons, J.C. Penney has been left to pick up the pieces and start over again. In somewhat of an ironic twist, the traditional retail brand is counting on digital technology to get it back to its roots as The Golden Rule Store — a place that offers high-value merchandise at great prices and with great service.
In a keynote presentation yesterday at the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York City, Mike Rodgers, chief customer officer at J.C. Penney, discussed how the department store chain is using digital technology to help it reconnect with its lost customers while at the same time building relationships with new ones.
"Recent challenges have humbled us," Rodgers acknowledged to the audience. "But we're ready to get back to connecting with our customers. We're embracing the future and taking risks."
In lockstep with J.C. Penney's new tagline, "when it fits, you feel it," Rodgers talked about how the company is getting back to the basics of making style comfortable for its customers. A requirement for accomplishing that is having a complete understanding of J.C. Penney's customers.
When Rodgers joined J.C. Penney in February of last year, CEO Mike Ullman described to him J.C. Penney's core customers as having "too little time, too little money and two little kids." That message has stuck with Rodgers.
From its days of mailing print catalogs to the launch of its e-commerce site to its mobile properties of today, omnichannel has always been a part of J.C. Penney's culture. The company's focus today is on creating a seamless connection between its stores and digital properties, Rodgers said.
Guiding that focus is J.C. Penney's three pillars to omnichannel success: find it, get it, make it work. What's becoming more apparent with every passing day is that mobile is at the center of this omnichannel shopping experience. Consider the following stats that Rodgers revealed about J.C. Penney's business:
- 69 percent of its customers use their phone while shopping in-store;
- in 2012, 72 percent of its online traffic came from desktop computers, while today more than 50 percent of traffic comes from smartphones and tablets; and
- the retailer has seen a 40 percent increase in mobile app conversions in the last year.
"You must have a digital strategy, driven by mobile, to compete," said Rodgers.
Mobile App Yielding Positive Results
Integral to J.C. Penney's digital evolution is it new mobile app, which launched this past year shortly before Black Friday. The app was developed in just 87 days as J.C. Penney worked feverishly to ensure it was ready for the holiday shopping season. Rodgers describes the app as "the hub of the J.C. Penney shopping experience," enabling users to find the products they want (e.g., improved navigation for faster browsing, targeted search functionality), get them (e.g., flexible shipping options, ability to scan the barcode of an item in-store to see if it's available on jcpenney.com in a different size, style or color) and make it worth it (e.g., easier access to coupons).
In just under two months since its launch, the mobile app is already paying dividends for J.C. Penney. Rodgers reports that the app has generated increased sales and engagement. In fact, three weeks after its launch, the app had more downloads on one weekend than J.C. Penney's previous app had total.
"Customer expectations haven't changed, but how they connect with us has," Rodgers noted. "We need to change with them."