Ron Johnson is widely credited for the success of the Apple Store model, planning and starting the first Apple Stores. Johnson is now CEO of JCPenney and appears determined to narrow the chasm between the retail experience at an Apple Store and at JCPenney.
The end of cash registers and genesis of the “denim bar”
Going into an Apple Store is almost like visiting an alternate reality. Each staff member brandishes an amped up iPhone to stay in sync, see what’s in their queue, and to run credit cards for merchandise. The Apple hardware is arranged by type, allowing hands on use of all Apple products. The ancillary hardware is arranged by type and use. There is a section for hardware cases and a section for home recording. It’s very intuitive to find anything, and the customer service is pretty phenomenal.
When I think of JCPenney I think of my mom taking me there to find corduroy pants as part of my Catholic school uniform, or of picking up an emergency tie before a social event. A blah experience to have only when you need something. That’s not the JCPenney that Johnson envisions. In a talk at tech conference Johnson reveal that JCPenney is intent to get rid of all of their cash registers, and go to a model similar to the Apple Store. Although the details are a little opaque, JCPenney has already started to introduce boutique-style departments, even offering a “denim bar,” where you go to consult a “fit specialist” about different cuts of jeans.
A revelation at Apple
Johnson is said to have had a revelation at Apple when developing the first Apple store. Rather than merchandise product by type, he decided to arrange things by “lifestyle.” Of course how product is arranged is a small part of the Apple Store experience, but you can easily understand how merchandising by lifestyle could work at JCPenney and set them apart far from their competition in that vertical. It’s a big leap of faith, but JCPenney needs something big.
What will customers think?
So far the new stores have been well-received but not well-trafficked. It will be interesting to see how people respond to this new model when it is fully rolled out. There’s a lot of cause for optimism – rather than being a place to go when you need something, Ron Johnson appears to be creating a trendy destination to go to. For businesses entering crowded markets, there may be something valuable to be gleaned by JCPenney’s innovation.