What Was Ex-Apple Retail Chief Ron Johnson’s Big Mistake At JC Penney?

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Here’s some fantastic analysis on what ex-Apple retail chief Ron Johnson did wrong at JC Penney written by legendary Apple ad man Ken Segall, who completely rejects the idea that Ron Johnson didn’t understand JC Penney’s brand identity, and even wandered around quoting the company’s founder, who detested sales gimmicks. So what was the problem?

According to Segall — and this is a fantastic point — Johnson’s problem was that he messed up the timing. Johnson’s formula for success was a winning one, but he took away JC Penney’s sales gimmick before he could fully roll-out the store-in-store system that was to replace it:

Ron failed because he changed the prices before long before he could visibly change the stores.

He did a basic cleanup of the selling environment (eliminated junk and switched to whole-number pricing). Then, before he could widen the appeal of jcp, he took away the one thing traditional customers were hanging onto: sales and coupons…

What Ron should have done is keep the existing pricing policy in place while he more quietly built the “new jcp” in the background. He could have been bringing in exciting new brands and renovating stores more progressively, without forcing customers to go cold turkey on sales and coupons.

He ripped out the old before the customers could really see the new.

The whole article’s a fantastic read, and really gives Johnson his due credit: he may have messed up on the execution of his JC Penney plan, but this is a retail visionary who very much puts a premium on his respect for the customers he serves. I can’t wait to shop at whatever store he comes up with next.

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  • AppleInvestor

    One could argue that if the idea was sound but the execution was poor, what’s the difference, the result was poor. And in Steve Jobs world that is ALL that counted, results. Even Ken Segall says as much in his insanely great book about Steve Jobs and his simplicity philosophy.

  • ZeeKazim

    What he did wrong: HE STOPPED JCP FROM SHIPPING TO MY COUNTRY! >:(

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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