Ron Johnson: Apple Stores vs. J.C. Penney

“Apple upended the conventional wisdom with its glass-encased stores, which became the most profitable retail outlets in the world at a time when many shoppers were abandoning chains for online shopping,” Rick Newman writes for U.S. News & World Report. “So it made sense for struggling retailer J.C. Penney to hire Ron Johnson, the man who executed Apple’s retail strategy, as the CEO to lead the turnaround at Penney’s.”

“Obviously it didn’t work,” Newman writes. “It’s obvious to say that Penney’s isn’t Apple, but it’s worth exploring why a strategy that’s wildly successful at one retailer could be such a miserable failure at another. Apple has succeeded by offering devices and services that do things more simply and elegantly than the competition. It has cultivated customers who expect to be delighted by Apple products. They show up at an Apple store ready to be impressed, and the results suggest they are. Penney’s customers, by and large, don’t expect to be delighted. They expect decent merchandise, cheap. They’re also willing to make tradeoffs, such as pawing through a disorganized pile of sweaters to find a good deal.”

Newman writes, “At Apple, Johnson had one of the best brands in the world to work with. At Penney, he started with a damaged brand and may have made it worse. Sustaining a winner and creating one, it turns out, are two very different challenges.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Brawndo Drinker” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Will Apple bring Ron Johnson back? – April 8, 2013
Ron Johnson out as JC Penney CEO, says source – April 8, 2013
Ron Johnson starting to look a lot more maniacal than brilliant – March 8, 2013
If JC Penney fires CEO Ron Johnson, analyst predicts bankruptcy – March 8, 2013
J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson cuts 2,200 more jobs as sales plunge – March 8, 2013
J.C. Penney posts large loss as sales sink further – February 27, 2013
JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson capitulates, brings back sales – January 28, 2013
Apple retail’s Ron Johnson and John Browett have proved the Peter Principle is alive and well – November 13, 2012
CEO Ron Johnson switches J.C. Penney to two-tier pricing with price-match guarantee – July 26, 2012
Why is Ron Johnson’s retail strategy for J.C. Penney failing? – June 26, 2012
J.C Penney’s stock tumbles after key exec’s abrupt exit – June 19, 2012
J.C. Penney reports loss and plummeting sales in 1Q – May 15, 2012
Why Ron Johnson left Apple to head JC Penney – April 30, 2012
J.C. Penney lures another executive from Apple – April 26, 2012
Steve Jobs’ ex-lieutenant Ron Johnson adds $1.5 billion to J.C. Penney in two days – January 30, 2012
J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson: What I learned building the Apple Store – November 21, 2011
New J.C. Penney CEO Johnson hiring former Apple co-workers – November 9, 2011
Why Apple’s retail genius Ron Johnson is paying for the privilege of running J.C. Penney – June 15, 2011
Apple’s retail store chief Johnson off to J.C. Penney; expected to become CEO within months – June 14, 2011


  1. He should have made it into a hip, more desirable place to shop than Macy’s. Unfortunately, even Target and Walmart had better deals on cheap items, and Macy’s, Gap, and outlet stores were where it’s at to find good deals on well-known brand clothes.

  2. “pawing through a disorganized pile of sweaters to find a good deal”

    This is a perfect metaphor for JCP, Macy’s, Kohl’s and their ilk and exactly why I dislike shopping there. Good stuff buried under or obscured by crap.

    1. And I’ve been told by more than 1 “shopper”, if they are rooting around then they aren’t shopping. That’s their joy, to find a great deal buried among the crap.

      Me, I know what I want before I get to the store, expect to find a reasonable selection of good quality choices, pick one and be on my way to the bar to meet friends.

  3. I think it should be restated that RJ said this would take between 3-5 years and they chickened out after 18 months (and I can understand that – it would take some guts to hold the course in the face of such short term results) but I think – ultimately – they will come to regret this decision IMHO!

  4. “They’re also willing to make tradeoffs, such as pawing through a disorganized pile of sweaters to find a good deal”

    Perhaps Microsoft should put an iPad at the bottom of a pile of Surface RT’s. 😉

  5. sustaining a winner? huh? Apple’s previous ‘retail’ experiences of placing product in existing big box stores, only to have it in a state of dysfunction, and having salespeople talk it down is not even close to sustaining a winner. Johnson and Jobs built the great experience of the Apple Store from the ground up.

    I guess since its been around for more than 10 years, Newman either failed to acknowledge the beginnings of the Apple Store, or is dumb enough not to realize that every endeavor has to start somewhere. Or maybe was too lazy to fire up a brain cell or two to check it out.

    1. Apple’s retail experience wasn’t all that new.

      In 1984 at the Byte Shop we took the hobbyist computer store experience and transformed it into one with focus product displays, a classroom and a “genius” window in the service center.

      Ron Johnson didn’t do anything all that amazing. He just happened to do it with the Apple product line.

  6. You can put garbage in glass cases and nobody will buy it (just look at MicroSoft Stores). Apple quite simply has had cutting edge compelling products that justify a store front, no matter how it looks. Steve was notorious for having expensive (classy) tastes, and it was his own idea to open their own high end stores, not Ron’s. Ron Johnson was simply fortunate to be selected by Steve at a time when Apple was grossly under-performing due to heavily PC-biased misinformation and ready to boom.

  7. I kept waiting, excitedly, for a great reason to go to JCP to see what Ron was up to. I looked forward to “THE SHIFT” that would draw me there — the changed look and feel, the clean passionate ads that would tell me these are “my folks” and this store is for me, the deals on super nice things I want that I couldn’t wait to go and get…

    And I got none of it. Ellen’s ads were bizarre, the new logo just looks small and confined (who puts their name in a box?), and the local store looked like as much of a dump as ever, with horrible women’s clothes all over the place — things I’d hope to never see on my wife — and maybe a few brighter new lights and, oh yeah, a few new mannequin set pieces that looked fresh amongst the desert of nasty.

    So, yeah, that one time I forced myself to walk through the place — forced myself — I left disappointed and have yet to desire to enter the store.

    I predict Penny’s demise. I just hope Ron will sell his stock asap, because as I recall he bought a boatload of it as a sign of confidence when he took the CEO position.

    1. You are right, Nerd B. My wife would always get good deals at JCP with the mailer coupons. In addition, she noticed the place turn more into a dump. Many commenters here are strictly talking out of their butts never having experienced JCP before R. Johnson came on board.

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