Follow-up on JC Penney: Will their mea culpa commercial work?

By Annie Burnham

Last month, I posted a blog on the firing of former JC Penney CEO, Ron Johnson, due to his failure to turn around the company’s plummeting sales. Johnson created problems by pushing away loyal customers and ignoring their needs. JC Penney has existed for 111 years and has a large customer base. Johnson treated JC Penney customers like he treated Apple’s customers, despite the differences between the companies and their customers. The failure to recognize those differences coupled with the sudden and vast number of changes helped lead to Johnsons failures as CEO.

Mike Ullman, the old JC Penney CEO reinstated as interim leader, wasted no time in sending out a plea to former JC Penney shoppers. The struggling retailer released a 30–second commercial asking customers for forgiveness:

It’s no secret. Recently, JC Penney changed. Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you. To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful. Come back to JC Penney. We heard you. Now, we’d love to see you.” The spot ends with the full JC Penney name, and the lines “Come back to see us” and “We’re listening on Facebook.”

While the commercial has garnered some attention for JC Penney, experts have differing opinions about what its outcome might be. Daniel Gross, writer for The Daily Beast, said that the firing of a CEO in such a short amount of time is an emerging trend. The speed at which changes in technology, social media, the market, and investing take place contributes to shorter tenures for CEOs.

“Over the past five years, an average of nearly 1,300 CEOs have resigned, retired, or been fired each year,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, a Chicago-based executive coaching firm. “Patient money is nonexistent in the age of immediacy in which we live. JC Penney provides a case study of what happens when impatient money meets a turnaround that is likely to take time.”

Some critics say that there is no hope for JC Penney. According to Douglas A. McIntyre, a writer for the blog 24/7 Wall St, “JC Penney would not only have to reach millions of them with its new message. It also would have to compel these consumers to come back to an experience they abandoned because they did not like it.”

Whether customers return or not doesn’t seem to have deterred Goldman Sachs from approving a $1.75 billion loan for JC Penney this past week. One problem JC Penney now faces with the broadcast of this commercial is to live up to what it has promised. Gaining back its consumers and developing brand loyalty isn’t going to happen just because of an apology in the form of a 30- second TV commercial. Shoppers need to see changes that they like. So, what does the future hold for retailers —particularly JC Penney? Only time will tell.

How have you responded to JC Penney’s recent changes? Is the apology enough to bring customers back? Be sure to leave comments below.

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