Masking complexity in in the shopping experience

In an interview from the Seattle Times, Ron Johnson, the new CEO of J.C. Penney, discusses his plans for the future of the chain. Johnson spent 15 years at Target, where he succeed in making a Wal-Mart-like shopping experience into a cool, chic way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Then he spent almost a decade at Apple where he revolutionized the shopping experience for electronics, where he created an anti-Best Buy, focusing on a few, awesome products displayed in attractive stores, with an incredible focus on customer service.

Target and the Apple Store are two of my favorite shopping experiences. J.C. Penney has been one of my least favorite shopping experiences. So, I am very interested to see how Johnson handles this.

His first step is to reduce the complexity of the shopping experience by greatly reducing the number of sales (there were 590 sales last year) and reducing the fluctuations of pricing:

Q. Won't shoppers be turned off because they won't see the big markdowns?

A. I wouldn't assume they like the pricing strategy. I think they're insulted by it.

His second step is to provide a significant amount of product support, both before purchaing, during purchasing, and after purchasing to customers. From there, more changes will take place until J.C. Penney is transformed:

Q. Who are you targeting?

A. We are going after all Americans. We would like to be the store for everyone.

It is interesting that corporate America requires someone with the track record of Ron Johnson to make some of these changes. Clarity and simplicity seem to make all of the difference in the shopping environment, and helpful customer service is always a plus. That is what makes the Apple Store different from Gateway Country and Target different from K-mart.

I wish more of the well-established, yet fading, American brands would do the same. These basic strategies always seem to work, because that is what the consumer wants: simplicity and support.

And in general, those stores that have embraced changing times and changing environments, and have striven for simplicity, have succeeded. That includes Barnes & Noble and the Nook (vs. Borders) and Costco (vs. Sams Club).

Of course these big changes will not happen over night, and hopefully Johnson will be given enough time and support by the company to change the culture. Changing the culture is essential, and changing the culture takes a long time and makes a lot of folks uncomfortable:

Q. When will we start to see improvements?

A. You'll start to see the experience change month by month. Everyone thinks it's an overnight success but it never is. I was at Apple from 2000 to 2011, but it wasn't until 2004 that the iPod became an important part of people's lives. It wasn't until 2007 that Apple reinvented the phone. It wasn't until 2009 that Apple launched the iPad. But we look at it today and we feel Apple had always been beloved. It took time and this will take time as well.

Via Seattle Times

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Waiting in line for the iPhone 4. In the summer heat. For hours. Because going to the Apple store is fun. (2010)