An Open Letter To JC Penney

Dear JC Penney Leadership,

I am writing this on the day following your most recent earnings announcement.  By the current look at your stock price (down 8% today, and roughly 30% since September 30th), clearly Wall Street investors are not impressed with your current performance and future prospects.

I’m here to write this letter to give you a potential glimpse as to what might be the problems that could aid in your continued turnaround activities.

You’ve made tremendous strides in undoing some of the wrongs that have plagued you over the past few years.  You reversed the ‘no coupons or discount’ strategy, the one that took away just about any chance of competing in today’s marketplace.  You revised your web sales strategy and streamlined your site to bring you into the current century in terms of an online sales model.  You accelerated renovations and updates to many stores, making them a more welcome place to shop.

Those are all great, but take a step back and look at the focus.  Pricing.  Online.  Appearance.

All great things that need attention and are required for your company to have any chance of success, but isn’t there one missing?

Customer.

What are you doing to help your customers want to shop at JC Penney?  From a recent shopping experience that I will share with you, it seems there are still significant deficiencies that need to be addressed.

My wife provided me the details behind this.  She is too nice to complain to me, but I am passing along her experience, not as a means to be negative, but in hopes that you address the situation directly, as well as look at how this might represent problems with your overall customer service strategy.  Problems that you can hopefully fix.

My wife visited a Michigan store recently in hopes of buying things from your home department.  We recently repainted several rooms, and needed updated window treatments, towels, and rugs to put the finishing touches on the room.  She went out of her way to go the store, and was hopeful that JC Penney would be the first and last stop in seeking out these items.

The search started in the window treatment area.  Our needs were simple, as we needed a decorative valance to go over our window that matched our new decor.  My wife found a couple of items and was walking towards an associate to ask a couple of questions, when the associate turned and walked to a back room.  Looking around, there were no other associates on the floor.  My wife waited a couple of minutes, but nobody returned.  The associate was not working with another customer at the time.  She just…left.

Disappointed, my wife  moved on to the bath area and started looking around at the items we needed.  She found everything and was very satisfied with the looks and found that the pricing was fantastic.  She gathered her items and went to the nearest register, where there was a long line of people waiting to be checked out.

Lines and such are not an issue.  However, when one of the two clerks working finished up with a customer and announced that she was leaving her register to go work on catalog stock, that was the last straw.  While her job may have been to work on catalog stock, to simply leave knowing that there was a long line of customers, announce that she was leaving, and to do so when there was clearly nobody else coming to step in for her was unacceptable.  This was a slap in the face to every customer who was waiting in line, who would now have to wait twice as long as the checkout capacity was reduced by 50%.

My wife put her items back and left the store.  She went to Kohl’s, where she purchased similar items, and ended up paying 20% more.  But, she got her questions answered, and was checked out quickly.  In fact, while she was waiting in line, another register was opened to deal with the line, a very welcome contrast to the experience at JC Penney.

As we are frugal in such purchases, she asked my opinion on whether paying more was the right way to go or if she should have stuck it out to get the better deal.  I didn’t even hesitate in my answer.

Leaving JC Penney and taking her business elsewhere was, without a doubt, the right way to go.

Lower prices are great but with poor customer service backing it up, the low prices as well as any other improvements that I’ve mentioned (or haven’t) are meaningless  Customer service has to be first and foremost the key to your business, otherwise nothing else matters.

I urge you to work on improving your customer service.  Now, it could be easily speculated that the experience I outlined above was a one time thing, that it’s not your business practice, and maybe was just something that happened.  But, in looking at stories around the web.  In looking at flattening sales while your competitors improved, in looking at the movement on your stock, I don’t think my wife and I are alone in our assessment.

Keep doing everything else you’re doing, but I implore you, provide your customers the service that they have come to expect.  If you don’t give it to them, there are other stores who would be more than happy to provide that service.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Disappointed In Michigan

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter To JC Penney”

  1. Oh, man…I feel your pain. I’m a huge stickler for customer service as well. I do a lot of my day to day shopping at Walmart or Target…and I get fair to good customer service depending upon who I talk to. But last week I needed to get something for my wife after I dropped her off at work downtown – the nearest store that would fit my needs was KMART. KMART is not anywhere near my house, and the only reason I went in there was because it was near my wife’s place of employment. The store was horrible. Boxes everywhere, and the store looked run down. The customer service was horrendous. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and finding someone to help me was almost impossible. I think they hire THE slowest cashiers possible because the store wasn’t that busy, there were 8 checkout lanes open, and each of them was backed up with several customers. It probably would have been faster to drive a few extra miles to the nearest Target.

  2. Service is so important! I think many retailers think a low price is enough, but you still need service in order to buy it. I have shopped at stores like Macy’s and walked out because I could not get a question answered.

  3. Customer service is SO important. I too like a bargain and I will go out of my way to find one, but being treated poorly by people whose job is to help customers… why would you help keep them in work by shopping there? Vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.

  4. Great prices are important, but customer service needs to be the priority. Back when I was managing department stores, I always told my people their primary job was “to make the customer happy”. Seems that message is getting lost far too often based on what I’m experiencing as a customer these days.

    • I agree. A lot of it does boil down to management not properly setting expectations, with the important part that customer services is number one, and everything else that employees are asked to do ranks below.

  5. Regrettably, JCP carries the Stafford Super-Shirt. About the best value for a basic travel business shirt, and *always* available in a 17/34-35. Makes up for the somewhat indifferent service and lack of stock just about everywhere else.

    • I guess if it’s ‘worth it’ then it makes sense to settle for poor service or the what not. I just think these days, there’s more competition vying for those dollars, so they can’t assume that the customers will be there even if they are treated poorly.

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