The Levi's Shop in the Valley View Mall JC Penney. REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Since J.C. Penney announced some major changes in January, customers have had to pick a side: old or new J.C. Penney?
But you may want to wait before you officially choose. The retailer plans changes through 2015, and big things are still happening.
In January, J.C. Penney announced it would no longer have coupons, changed its pricing strategy, revamped the return policy and signed Ellen DeGeneres on as spokeswoman.
Three of these changes remain in effect today: no coupons, a clear-cut return policy and a collaboration with DeGeneres, despite a negative response from some conservative groups.
The pricing strategy, however, has been altered again. The retailer had introduced monthly deals and “best” prices on select products as a way to simplify shopping strategies. Those are now gone.
Instead there are only everyday prices and clearance merchandise – something shoppers said they missed. Each Friday, merchandise is put on clearance to make room for new products, and the clearance price represents the lowest markdown.
“We’re really focused on making it simple for the customer,” said Kate Coultas, a J.C. Penney spokeswoman.
Though there are still no coupons, shoppers can earn jcp rewards.
J.C. Penney cardmembers are automatically enrolled in this program. If you’re not a cardmember, you can register up to three credit or debit cards, including a jcp card, upon joining the program.
With qualifying purchases totaling $100 per month, a $10 reward certificate will be emailed to the shopper to use the following month. Gold card members can earn up to two rewards for spending $200 per month, and platinum card members can earn up to three rewards for spending $300 per month. Shoppers will also receive an email when their jcp rewards are about to expire.
Introducing Shops, free kids haircuts at salon
There are also some physical changes happening throughout stores. The retailer has widened aisles and hung fewer items on racks to make them easier for browsing.
Another recent addition are the “Shops,” which are brand-specific shopping areas within the store. Locally, the Valley View Mall location has 11 shops: MNG by Mango, Levi’s (for men and women), Arizona (for juniors and young men), I jeans by Buffalo, Liz Claiborne, Izod and jcp (for men and women).
And there might be one other coming soon: Sephora.
“Sephora has been discussed and is a possibility,” said Denise Gordon, Valley View store leader.
Gordon explained that by having Shops, which appear simply to be nice displays of select brands, J.C. Penney is hoping it will feel like a specialty department store. Each brand’s Shop is tailored to a specific style. Eventually, they hope, the entire store will be a collection of shops, making it easier for shoppers to find what they want.
By the end of 2013, J.C. Penney stores will have 40 Shops in stores nationwide and 100 by the end of 2015. The Valley View location is optimistic it will eventually have each Shop.
Some specialty areas of the store, like housewares, lingerie, shoes and children’s apparel, haven’t been affected yet by Shops, but Gordon said most every department will be touched by 2015.
While J.C. Penney’s salon will remain untouched, starting in November the promotion offering free haircuts for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade will return each Sunday.
Throughout October the salon will also be offering free cuts to breast cancer survivors in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Shoppers sound off
Responses to the changes at the retailer have been mixed.
Taniko Belt of Roanoke has been a J.C. Penney shopper for at least 12 years and still loves it.
“There’s something for everyone in the family. I’m a mother and I love the clothing, the styles and the people who work here,” she explained while shopping there Tuesday morning. “And I love the prices, it’s all so affordable.”
Isaac Podyma of Bedford doesn’t shop often, but he likes the changes. He was also there Tuesday.
“I like that they put everything I like and need in one part of the store,” Podyma said.
However, he wasn’t too impressed with the prices. He also had trouble finding his size in the Shops, which featured many different styles but a limited number of sizes for each.
Several readers have commented on the Shoptimist blog about the changes. Many miss the coupons, and there seemed to be an age divide: young shoppers like the changes, while longtime customers do not.
Cary Ridgeway wrote: “No longer shop there anymore since they changed thingsâ? .Used to love the old JCP, don’t like the new one at all!”
Trish agreed: “I also shopped at JCP and it was my favorite but since they stopped the Door Busters on Saturday mornings and coupons I no longer shop there. The selection is poor and overpriced!”
Shanon doesn’t feel the store is for her anymore, commenting: “I very rarely shop there anymore. I used to get the majority of my wardrobe there, but since the changes, I can no longer find good deals. As a mom of 3, I’m always looking for bargains, which the old JCP had. The new JCP seems to be targeting the young professionals.â? I think they have created a lose-lose situation for themselves.”
Meanwhile, Amber is a new fan of the store. She wrote: “I had stayed away from JCP after reading all the negative comments in the first article. I recently went there and was pleasantly surprised. â? There are still plenty of bargains. I shop for my toddler and the prices at JCP now are cheaper than they used to be. They are also much cheaper than the other department stores for the same brands.”
Kristen agreed and wrote: “I like the new JC Penney. As a younger (mid-20s) shopper, I never shopped there before all the changes. There just wasn’t enough options for my taste in style. Now, I can find some really cute, stylish but not too trendy looks for half the price of what you would find at Macy’s.”
Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t on J.C. Penney’s side. According to a Sept. 24 article in Business Week, the company’s shares traded at $43.18 on Feb. 9 before hitting a year-low of $19.06 on July 18.
Additionally, in early September, Forbes reported that in the first six months of 2012 sales dropped 21.3 percent.
Will Shops, free haircuts and a revamped look get shoppers back in the store? Only time will tell, but Ron Johnson, chief executive officer of J.C. Penney, has high hopes.
In a news release Johnson said, “The back-to-school season presents the perfect opportunity to offer free haircuts for kids and unveil our new Shops, giving customers a first glimpse of what will soon be an entirely new retail experience. We know how important it is for kids to make a great first impression and with low prices every day, jcpenney is making it easier for parents to shop without having to wait for a sale.”
What do you think of the long-term plan for J.C. Penney? Do you plan to shop at the store?