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Is JC Penney Back to Its Old Tricks?
By: Dana Severson
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It started with a so-called “gift.” A $10 coupon emailed to consumers in October as an incentive to come in and see JC Penney’s new stores.
It continued with a three-day event in December. The 110-year-old chain invited friends and family to enjoy yet another coupon — or should we call it a “gift” — for 20% off of purchases.
Now, the stores themselves are following suit. Banners have been hung to tout their clearance sales, and it hasn’t stopped there.
Going hand-in-hand with a recent ad campaign, new tags are being placed next to merchandise, showing how much shoppers save by buying Penney’s products over similar fare at other stores.
So, what’s happened to ‘Fair & Square’ pricing?
These sales, coupons, and events don’t mark the end of gimmicky promotions, as promised by Ron Johnson, CEO of JC Penney. In fact, they feel even gimmickier — if that’s a word. Let’s be honest, calling a coupon a “gift” doesn’t make it any less of a coupon. Sales are still sales even if you insist on calling them “events,” right?
Consumers aren’t stupid, and the attempt to “simplify” shopping for customers just ends up alienating them instead. I mean, what value does JC Penney offer without its promotions?
The middle-income shoppers who once went to the retailer are now found at Kohl’s, Bon-Ton, and Sears. They’re also over at Macy’s — where you never buy anything at full price. Are these chains worried about offering promotions? Probably not. 
It also hasn’t helped matters that the stores-within-a-store concept has been so slow in its rollout. You see inklings of it here and there, with mini-shops for Izod, Arizona, Claiborne, Levi, Buffalo and L’amour Nanette Lepore cropping up around the floor. But the rest of the store still feels…well, like the same old JC Penney.
If Penney is going to feel like the same old Penney — at least until 2015, when the mini-shops are planned to be completed — wouldn’t it be wise for the business to embrace the promotional aspects of retail?
My guess is you’ll start seeing more coupons — I mean “gifts” — from the retailer in the coming months. And that’s not a bad thing. We just need to convince Johnson of this.

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About the Author
Dana Severson is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant in the Twin Cities area. Find him at his website for a little downhome advice. 
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