In defense of JCPenney
I am so confused by the JCPenney failures.
More than a year ago, JCPenney retooled its image to do away with sales in favor of what they called “fair and square pricing.” The idea was that most retailers mark up wares and put them on sale, but JCPenney would charge a fair price to start. They'd also ditch the tried-and-true 99-cent finish on price tags that supposedly (does it really?) tricks the eye into thinking you're spending less.
Some people didn't like that. Soon after, the company brought back sales but stuck to a tiered pricing program. Six months later, it retooled again and brought back the word "clearance." Go to the website right now and it's like a block-letter beacon of hope splashed all across the page. WE HAVE CLEARANCE, YOU INGRATES.
Still, it seemed JCPenney had confused the heck out of people. Data showed customer satisfaction was strong, but the company had its lowest sales in years. Shares plummetted. CEO Ron Johnson, a former executive with Apple, talked about a plan to install boutiques and fix the problems. And I was thinking...
What is wrong with people?
Take it from someone who likes to shop there: Even if the marketing and pricing efforts were short-sighted, or even if they alientated some people, JCPenney is better on its face than it has ever been. JCPenney is affordable, JCPenney is convenient, and JCPenney is cool, which is not something I would have said in years past.
Growing up, it was the place my grandma shopped and got her perms done. Not that she didn't look great, but I always thought of the store as more elastic pants than high-fashion. In the past few years, though, I've seen it evolve to embrace the egalitarian low-price designer model forged in part by Johnson at Target. We've seen other department stores carry affordable designer capsules (Karl Lagerfeld for Macy's, anyone?), but none with prices like JCPenney.
There's Allen B., by Allen Schwartz, the same guy who became famous recreating celebrity Oscar dresses. There's Bisou Bisou by Michele Bohbot, and Nicole by Nicole Miller, a designer who just showed at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. There's Betseyville by perrenial favorite kook Betsey Johnson, full of pink things and glitter and roses that are appealing as candy but too pricey for an Average Jane at other stores. There's I Heart Ronson, a cute line by Charlotte Ronson (incidentally, she is the sister of Samantha Ronson, the DJ who dated Lindsay Lohan during the Dark Arts Era of Not My Jeans Arrests). MNG by Mango is one of the most sophisticated stops in the store. And if that wasn't enough to keep me spending money in one place, JCPenney also added mini Sephoras inside, you know, to steal my soul.
And guys. They have the same stuff as Dillard's and Macy's, but it's cheaper. I swear to the Sweet Lord of Spandex. I went to Macy's, tried on a Ruby Rox cocktail dress that didn't fit quite right. I went to JCPenney the same night and found the exact same Ruby Rox dress in my size for less money. This week, I popped in to look at cocktail dresses for another event, and left with a blouse from I Heart Ronson ($12) and another from Allen B. ($15), a mint confection with a Peter Pan collar, both right-now trends in fashion. I got loads of compliments.
I'm almost rooting for JCPenney to keep trying new things, because when it does, thrifty fashion fans reap the benefits. Now, the store is adding boutiques from Joe Fresh (the one in Westfield Countryside mall was under construction this week). They've just added L'amour Nanette Lepore by Nanette Lepore. And things are afoot from Justin Timberlake's baby William Rast and Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman. Marchesa, y'all. Come on.
Maybe people are freaked out by a price tag or a flyer or a Chris Gaines-style cringeworthy nickname. Or, you know, maybe the store is just different now and needs to find an entirely new fan base. And maybe that's not the worst thing.