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J.C. Penney uses ‘experiences’ to ‘reimagine retail’


It is not easy for a 100-plus year-old retailer to reimagine its retail strategy, but J.C. Penney is doing just that.

To stay relevant in today’s competitive marketplace, Penney is changing its focus and creating programs that address how its consumers shop in the digital revolution. The company’s executive VP of omnichannel, Mike Amend, provided an insider’s look at how Penney is transforming the customer experience in a presentation at’s “Retail’s Digital Summit 2016“ event last week in Dallas.

“The biggest barrier of change is being unwilling to change,” said Amend. “Most companies are reluctant to change unless there is a disruptor or turmoil within the company.”

Penney knows this roadblock too well as the company faced a downward spiral due to leadership changes, as well as unprecedented — and harmful — business models and marketing decisions, all of which contributed to continually sinking sales. Following leadership changes and a renewed focus on the shopper, Penney is now knee-deep in its recovery.

At the helm of this change is the chain’s ability to empower consumers to research, navigate and shop their favorite brand in a different way. To set this plan in motion, Penney had to reach back into its roots.

“Our brand was built on delivering extreme value to customers,” Amend explained. “This means we can no longer focus on pushing specific products to shoppers. Instead, we need to combine products and services, and deliver ‘experiences’ that meet our shoppers’ needs.”

This new mindset prompted the company to deliver a single sales presence versus siloed channels. To support the transition, the department store chain launched a buy online, pickup in-store (BOPUS) pilot.

The service, launched in less than nine weeks, was introduced in the first quarter of 2015. Almost six quarters later, the service is now available in approximately 775 stores, and has a 94% fulfillment success rate, Amend reported.

“We are expediting orders through our stores, and getting merchandise into our shoppers’ hands faster and cheaper,” he added.

Penney took a similar approach when it merged its channels to create a “prom experience.”

“We want shoppers to know prom is not just about the dress, it’s an experience,” Amend said.

The experience begins online, where many young shoppers begin their journey exploring dresses, Amend explained, Penney’s website now includes recommendations for accessories available in-store. Once the shopper enters the store to try on or pick up their gown, the retailer extends the prom experience with signage highlighting the services available at its in-store hair salons (across 800 stores) and Sephora makeup studios (available in 570 locations). Prom-goers can also take pre-prom photos at in-store portrait studios, and find ideas to save these memories at the chain’s Pinterest page.

“Our focus is to grow business, increase convenience and leverage our digital capabilities to make our physical channel even better,” Amend said.
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