Open Letter to JC Penney — They Blew It, Badly, on Thanksgiving.

Last night, Thanksgiving evening, my daughter needed two pairs of tights. It was a time-sensitive need involving a trip to her boyfriend’s parent’s house and just the right outfit.

My daughter and I went to JC Penney, now open on Thanksgiving Day, from 3:00PM until the end of the following Saturday!

The place was packed, and immediately we noticed … The Line. Each of the several cash registers had a line many dozens of very annoyed people deep … and these lines were not moving.

Well, my daughter needed the tights, so we found them and I got into line, while my daughter went to work elsewhere in the mall. I waited in that line — The Line — for one hour and forty-five minutes. Yep. One hundred and five minutes.

Needless to say, tempers flared; people were irritated; I heard dozens say, “I’ll never do this again;” I heard several say, “I’ll never come to JC Penney again.”

In the part of the store where my daughter and I joined The Line, there were three, yep three, cash registers to handle hundreds of customers. There was a big sign over the paltry three registers. The sign read, “Customer Service.” The one thing that was not going on at JC Penney that evening was … customer service.

Everyone’s state of mind was: “How pathetically stupid, and irritating, and ridiculous is this?” I’m sure that the thoroughly ticked-off state of mind in the JC Penney customers of that evening was not what the store’s management wanted to foster.

During my long stint in The Line, I stood next to a delightful woman and her daughter, and we struck up a conversation in which we mused on ways to improve this awful, horrible circumstance. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Set aside a few square feet for a floor show for those in The Line. Amateur musicians, comedians, entertainment like that.
  2. Roving JC Penney employees with electronic devices that contain trivia questions. They pick out each person in The Line, and ask one of the questions. If the respondent answers correctly, he receives a spot gift of a random dollar amount from 10 to 100 dollars. Each day, one correct respondent gets a spot prize of $1,000.
  3. Per the bullet immediately above, this is something they could do all year long. Penney employees just randomly approaching customers, giving them a chance to win a spot cash prize.
  4. Employees with hand scanners capable of completing transactions for those people with only a few items, so they could clear The Line more quickly.
  5. If you’re not going to do anything to eliminate The Line, then there are people who might want to visit the rest room. An employee  could be a line placeholder for those people.
  6. Set aside a few square feet for benches along The Line, so that those in line could take a load off their feet for a few moments.
  7. JC Penney’s employees could work The Line handing out complimentary small snacks, or water.
  8. More cash registers. They could be on machines that raise and lower them from the ceiling, onto modular register counters for days such as Black Friday and Thanksgiving afternoon. When the really busy time passes, the extra registers could be raised back up into the ceiling. Raise and lower them according to customer levels.

Look at it this way: So-called “brick and mortar” retail is slowly dying. The internet is taking ever more business from the big box stores, and The Line is an important reason why.

In my conversation with my Line mate, I suggested that if JC Penney were to implement some of the things that I mentioned above, then people might not mind being in The Line. More to the point, they might even like being in The Line. More importantly, they might like to be in The Line … at JC Penney.

One of the people who soured yesterday evening on the idea of shopping at JC Penney at all was … yours truly. However, faced with a choice between, say, Target and JC Penney, where I know that at Penney’s at any moment, I might receive a spot prize of $100 to $1,000 or something like that … I’d be at Penney’s.

Furthermore, if they were to do that sort of thing — the live floor shows, the random giveaways, the trivia contests — year round, people would absolutely be regulars. Myself included. Everyone likes the chance to win something. It’s why the lotteries around the country are so popular. Heck, people who might not even be planning to shop would go.

Needless to say, each floor show, each random giveaway would also deliver announcements of specials, deals, attractions, and the like. For the marketing “gurus” at JC Penney, who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to deliver marketing messages to people who are already at the store?

Let’s put all this another way. My shopping experience at JC Penney’s yesterday evening was … horrible, painful, irritating. My time in The Line was like a punishment. A frazzled, young JC Penney’s employee was working the line telling everyone why, if they had more than two rebates or the like, they’d have to “get back in The Line.”

Back in The Line.

The context did make it seem like a punishment. My time in The Line was leavened only somewhat by the people’s increasingly creative comments on how they wanted to punish JC Penney.

My state of mind right now is even stronger than “I’m not planning to go back there anytime soon.” My state of mind is: “I’m planning not to go back to JC Penney. Ever.”

One more comment heard in The Line: “You know they had meeting after meeting after meeting to decide how they could make Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday go smoothly. They failed miserably.”

Three cash registers for hundreds and hundreds of people? Fail. The key phrase in all that: “I’m planning not to return to JC Penney. Ever.” More true, actually, I’ll go to JC Penney only if I have to. How many other customers did JC Penney lose yesterday, and how many will they lose today, Black Friday?

JC Penney couldn’t possibly consider all this a good thing. However, if they were to implement some or all of the above bullet-point suggestions, everything would change. I’d go there for the fun of the floor shows, the possibility of winning something, the chance that the lines would be (1) less arduous, (2) possibly entertaining and challenging, (3) of shorter duration, and (4) even occasionally … fun!

— xPraetorius






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