My colleague Daniel Gross explains here why Apple stores designer Ron Johnson failed at JCPenney's, but he really only deals with the Apple side of the argument, i.e., Apple had great products that everyone wanted and could have hired unattractive sales people and rented out mildewed basements and sales would have gone through the roof.
But Daniel doesn't look at it from a Penney's point of view, which is more interesting to me. I'm a fan of the old Penney's and thought there was little that was wrong with it. It's where I buy my golf shirts, and they're always half price or a little less. But I noticed when I walked in to my local JCP last weekend, there were no signs saying SALE! above the shirts. They were still the same price, $25 instead of $50, but as per Johnson's evident instruction, they're not into "sales" anymore. This seems an obvious psychological error.
Look, I have no idea what the kids buy these days and I won't pretend to. But I think what JCP needed to do, or still needs to do, is make it clear to upper-middle-class people that they actually have some pretty good stuff and that there should be no stigma attached to shopping there. We got some window blinds at JCP. They're great. They came in loads of interesting colors, they made them exactly to order, they arrived in a timely fashion, they were easy enough to install that even I (the most impatient person in the world when it comes to doing that kind of work) installed them easily, they look great, and best of all they're that no strings kind; you just grab hold of the bar across the bottom and up and down they go, and up or down they stay.
These would look at home in any $1.1 million Bethesda house. But it would never occur to the owner of a $1.1 million Bethesda house (whose owner, by our local economic standards, is not rich, just upper-middle-class) to go to JCP to buy blinds. So that's what they need to do. JCP, if you want to hire me, I'll leave journalism to support this noble cause.