JC Penney, Home of The ‘Truly Depressing Visit’

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias headed to a JC Penney in Wheaton, Md. this week to see if the troubling news for the Plano-based company — a $427 million loss this quarter, a comparable-stores fall of 32 percent, possibly the “worst quarter in retail history” — was really that bad. Turns out, yep:

So I took the Metro to the Maryland suburbs for a visit to the JCPenney in the Wheaton Plaza Mall to see if Johnson really is reviving the legendary chain. There is no evidence that Johnson has remade much of anything. Everything that I always find alienating and unpleasant about the basic department store experience is still there. The store is too big and too disorganized. Products are sometimes clustered by functional category and sometimes by brand, with a confusing mix of house brands and real ones. Right at the door a sign invites you to enjoy free Wi-Fi throughout the store, which really is a change. But why would you want that? There’s no place to sit in the store and no synergy between laptop use and shopping there. Just for kicks, I had my iPhone hop on the Wi-Fi network only to discover that the connection speeds were noticeably slower than Verizon LTE.

Nobody was ever driven into bankruptcy by unreliable Wi-Fi, but that’s the Ron Johnson Era in a nutshell. Instead of building on what the people who like JCPenney liked about JCPenney, he undertook a series of essentially arbitrary changes that alienated some without drawing anyone new in.

At least they didn’t lay off a bunch of workers then tweet “We made it to Friday. #GroupHug #Cheers.” Wait.


  • Serpephone Dallas

    Shopping at JC Penney’s is affordable; however, the selection is horrible and the quality is significantly less than what it was not too long ago…

  • dkv

    Everything you ever wanted to know about the future of JC Penny can be found in this post on Consumer Bifurcation by FT Alphaville: http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2011/06/28/606761/more-on-bifurcated-us-consumers/

    The mid-range retailer will be on the outs for the foreseeable future. Just look at the performance of Darden in the restaurant business – they are in the same boat.

    The newer stand alone Lake Highlands store is pretty nice, but not nice enough to keep me from Northpark.

  • Dallas Walker

    Interesting. It sounds like Wheaton, Md. and Staten Island, N.Y. are two completely different experiences. http://n.pr/YJKGoW

  • Vince

    My sister lives in Houston right behind a large shopping center called Myerland Plaza (I think). The JCPenny there is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. Any other store I’ve visited, not so much.