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A Case for Coupons: A Tale of JC Penney

A look at JC Penney's yearlong transformation: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

During my last two years of college, I worked part-time at JC Penney. Yes, you may recognize my famous face from the Customer Service/Catalog desk at your beloved Woodbury location (ahthankyouverymuch).

Therefore, I've been closely following the rise and fall of JC Penney's major pricing and marketing overhauls over the last year. And while I try to blog only humorous and lighthearted topics, I have some thoughts on one of America’s biggest retailers, and wondering why the heck their doing what their doing.

In January 2012, as you may have heard, JC Penney’s new CEO, Ron Johnson, swore to do away with the dizzying number of sales and coupons that were sent out week after week. They vowed to start offering only simple, affordable, everyday low prices. The company aired a series of ads showing women walking to their mailbox and getting toppled over from a stream of coupons and sale booklets. JC Penney swore this would happen no more.

And thus began the downfall. Over the last 12 months, sales dropped dramatically, stocks plummeted more than 40%, and store traffic decreased. And while they've tried many strategies to get customers in their stores (humorous new commercials featuring Ellen Degeneres free back-to-school haircut promotions, collectable holiday buttons), none of these strategies seem to be fixing the huge problems that JCPenney is facing.

This week, CEO Johnson must've realized his mistake, and has announced that they are reverting to the old formula of holding occasional sales (though he still claims the sales will not be as frequent, and they will still offer no coupons).

The stores have also been trying to reinvent themselves with a new, “hip” store-within-a-store concept, offering several mini stores in each JC Penney. The stores now feel emptier, and while some of the merchandise does look more “young, urban, and hip” (such as the Sephora store within our local JCP) I feel like this is missing their target customer completely.

We consumers understand that coupons and sales are largely a marketing gimmick, and that everyday low prices are ultimately less confusing. But where’s the fun in that?

You know what I (and most consumers) like best about stores like JC Penney and Kohls? Coupons. Well, sales plus coupons. You could walk into JC Penney on any given day, find what you want to buy, use your coupon to get what you perceive as a great deal, and walk out feeling a sense of satisfaction because you had some control over the price you paid.

So, JC Penney (or JCP as you’re now trying to become known), who are you trying to get into your stores? Young, urban fashionistas? Mothers who are looking for inexpensive clothes for the whole family? Women who swore by your comfortable brands made for women over 50? You can’t be all things to all people.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months as they bring back sales. Will the coupons come back as well? I hope so. I need some new shoes.

How do you feel about using coupons? Are you a bargain shopper, or do you just buy whatever you see that you like?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lauren Tschida January 30, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Wow, the formatting really came out all wrong on this post. My apologies, everyone!
Kris Janisch January 30, 2013 at 04:29 PM
I thought it looked fine Lauren. If you want, email me any changes you want to make and I'll go in and get it done.
Kris Janisch January 30, 2013 at 04:31 PM
OK, I saw some of the returns got funky. Fixed those. Let me know if there's anything else. Thanks for posting Lauren!
Kristen Cranford January 30, 2013 at 05:51 PM
I for one, love going into the new JCP and feeling like everything is affordable enough to buy on any day. I don't collect coupons or pay attention to sales and so when I needed something, I often avoided JCP because I figured they had a sale with a coupon that I didn't have so I would just miss out and couldn't afford to pay the original price. Since they have lowered prices I have purchased a TON of clothes there and love it. I'm actually wearing an outfit from there right now. I am surprised I am in the minority on this, I figured there are more people like me who just don't take the time to clip coupons or who don't go shopping just because there is a sale. Ultimately, I am a big fan and I hope they survive. Now that I've shopped there and been so happy, I will go back, sales or no sales.
Kris Janisch January 30, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Thanks for the info Kristen!
Lauren Tschida January 30, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Kristen, you bring up some good points. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. The funny thing is, I don't clip coupons ANYWHERE else, but JCP and Kohls are the only places where I hate to shop without a coupon or a sale going on :)
Dawn January 31, 2013 at 03:14 PM
I'm with Kristen. If I have a coupon for something - and generally I DON'T - I for sure would have left it at home when I decided to stop in and shop. I started shopping at JCP for the first time after the big Ellen "thing" and have purchased quite a lot there. I'm very happy with my purchases. I'm delighted to have Sephora in the neighborhood, it actually brings me into the store. I hope they make it through this crunch.
Vicki Strong February 02, 2013 at 06:25 PM
I go to JCP when I am looking for something specific and will buy it no matter the cost; I will only shop at Kohl's when I have a 30% off coupon. Anything else feels like I spent too much. If they can sell it to me for that during sales, then why not all the time? Which is JCP's point exactly. Unfortunately, shoppers, me included, are still looking for sales.
Simon D February 03, 2013 at 03:21 PM
JC Penny promised "new, low everyday pricing" when eliminating the sales and coupons. But nothing I buy there ever came down in price. They just eliminated the vehicle to get them at a discount. I don't get alot of clothes there, mainly socks, shoes, underwear, t-shirts, small kitchen electrics, pots/pans, and utensils. Can anyone give me an example of a kitchen item that actually had its regular price reduced? And I'm not talking about the discontinued floor models that don't come with the box.

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