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The Most Interesting Store in the World

He can speak French in Russian

There has been lots of hype lately about how a former Apple / Target executive along with a bunch of other former Target executives are going to transform JCPenney into the Apple of retailing. Unless these jokers get the exclusive rights to sell iPhones and iPads, it ain’t gonna happen. Why? Because size. Because location. Because inertia. Because, because, because.

When I was young I used to hate the people who always rained on my parade. They took my dreams and ever so gently pushed them under the bus. Ah the irony! I’m no expert in retail, although I have spent the majority of my life working in either retail or sales. My parents ran a small chain of retail stores where I learned about retail, merchandising, marketing, markup, etc. You don’t need a fancy title, a gold-plated resume, or a stellar career with some mega-corporation to see that JCPenney isn’t going to make the transition from that boring store mom used to drag me to into the most interesting store in the world.

I don’t care if that guy from the Dos Equis commercials becomes the Senior Vice-President for Marketing and shows up with a mountain lion, a gorgeous blond on one arm and a brunette on the other and an eighteen wheeler loaded with cerveza. I’m not shopping at JCPenney, unless I need a new pair of underwear, or something similarly mundane.

When corporations start bragging about how they are going to become the next Apple or Target it reminds me of a simple fact – the world already has an Apple and a Target, and they are pretty damn good at it already. Perhaps if JCPenney had been a better Penneys they wouldn’t have to blow so much marketing smoke up our derierres.

To an extent, JCPenney is caught at the cross section of several unfavorable trends. Shopping malls are dying. Personally, I hate the mall. I would rather clean the vinyl siding of my house, mow the lawn, vacuum the carpet, wash the dishes, watch an episode of The Bachelor, go to the ballet, and then have a long conversation with my wife where she tells me about how her day went in mind-numbing detail in lieu of going to the mall. While you’re at it, just shoot me and save me the misery of the mall. The economy continues to be lousy, despite the MSM shoveling truckloads of industrial strength cow manure regarding how we have finally turned the corner. The Baby Boomers have bankrupted the country, are spending their children’s inheritance, and sucking every last bit of government gravy down before they shake this mortal coil. We’re screwed, and so is JCPenney.

JCPenney is like a giant elephant. You can dress it in a tutu and buy it some extra large ballet slippers, but you won’t see it performing a graceful piroet in the Bolshoi Ballet any time soon. Which is to say, JCPenney is huge. It has pie in the sky plans to completely makeover its operations. It wants to create a series of town squares, stores within stores, and other such nonsense. It all sounds like gibberish to me. How about this? Why doesn’t JCPenney just stock the items I want, provide a way for me to get the ones I can’t find online, merchandise the store in an attractive way, make it easier for me to find the items I want, and strike a balance between being overly attentive and having employees step over my body should I expire while visiting their department?

JCPenney is not Apple. It’s not the most interesting store in the world. It’s not the most interesting store in town. It’s definitely not a night on the town with the most interesting man in the world. However, becoming a more efficient store with better service, at least,  doesn’t sound like total B.S. With the investment of time and money, in combination with proper execution, JCPenney might get me to buy something other than underwear, on those rare occasions when I opt to go to the mall, rather than spend a lovely night at the ballet or playing Russian Roulette with the neighborhood loan shark.

Update: 3-18-12

Sleepy Burro

Even the Burro is Bored of JCPenney

Well, yesterday I opted out of going to the ballet with my wife and, instead, went to the mall. The mall isn’t my favorite place, but we had just gone out for a good dinner, my belly was full and I was under the influence of the large chunk of meat still digesting in my gut. Anyhow, she had a top she just had to buy at JCPenney, so I volunteered to go inside with her – just to check out the self-styled Apple of retailing.

As the Talking Heads used to say it was “the same as it ever was.” It looked like pretty much the same old boring JCPenney I remember from my mom dragging me around in  it (not this store, but one just like it) when I was a kid. Yes, there are a few minor changes. The merchandise is a little less cluttered. There are a few “store within a store” sections semi-clearly labeled as such. However, my overall impression was that this was the same JCPenney I went to before Christmas to make my annual underwear purchasing pilgrimage.

JCPenny still features the same cavernous and overwhelming shopping experience. You still have to search for a checkout as if JCPenney isn’t aware that signage and, perhaps, a more brightly colored checkout might help its hapless customers locate them. The checkout is still mostly manned, or should I say “wo-manned” by the same blue haired old ladies who likely operated a till back in the day when you used to have to pull down a handle to operate the thing.

One of the things that strikes me most about JCPenney is how difficult they make it for you to find what you want. There is very little line-of-sight. The ginormous Sephora store within a store at our location blocks out your view of much of the store from every angle. There is less signage indicating where you are than in a third world country. The thing that makes me angry is that I am sure that all of this is on purpose. Many retailers, including JCPenney seem to want you to have to wander aimlessly through a maze like some lab rat searching for a piece of cheese. They figure if they make you wander around long enough you’ll pick up some other useless crap you don’t need and buy it too, along with what you originally came into the store if you’re lucky enough to find it in the size and color you were looking for. That is, of course, one of the reasons I only shop for underwear, the occasional pair of socks, and the even rarer shirt or tie there.

I have simply chosen not to play the game that retailers such as JCPenney and Ikea (don’t even get me started on their hellishly nightmarish maze of a store near Chicago) are playing. I’m not a lab rat. I don’t enjoy wasting my time looking for things. I don’t like having to guess who the employees at JCPenney are, assuming you can find one who is not going to break, going home or pretending to be busy. That’s why I, like the most interesting man in the world, don’t always go to the mall, but when I do, I go to Barnes & Noble. At least at Barnes the merchandise location is clearly marked. The aisles are generally spacious. I can sit down and read an interesting to find out if I like it. Then, if I do find a book I like I can always go online to Amazon and order it. Sorry Barnes, the lowest price wins. As for me and the sleepy burro pictured above, we’d rather be home than wandering around lost, frustrated and ignored at JCPenney.

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