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J.C. Penney takes to social media to ask shoppers to come back

Customers stand outside Macy's store in New York, April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Customers stand outside Macy's store in New York, April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Phil Wahba

(Reuters) - J.C. Penney Co Inc, recognizing it made mistakes in its attempt to re-invent itself last year, launched a social media and television campaign on Wednesday that asked shoppers who left in droves to come back.

Last year, sales plunged 25 percent after recently ousted Chief Executive Ron Johnson largely eliminated the use of coupons and sales in favor of regular, low prices. It was a disastrous move that alienated Penney shoppers who were accustomed to expecting coupons and deals.

Penney posted a video on Facebook featuring images of classic J.C. Penney stores from the 1960s and family scenes with a female voice-over saying "What matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing - to listen to you."

The narrator ends with: "Come back to J.C. Penney - we heard you. Now we'd love to see you."

The video also appeared on YouTube and will run on broadcast television this week.

Young & Rubicam helped Penney with the execution, but Penney's internal marketing department came up with the concept several months ago.

"This campaign sends a clear message that we listened, and now, we're doing everything we can to bring customers back," Penney spokeswoman Daphne Avila told Reuters by e-mail.

One customer, identifying herself as Tammy Pennington, left a comment on the Facebook post that said: "Next time, remember this, If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Johnson, who was replaced by his predecessor Myron Ullman, was brought in to stabilize the ailing retailer and sought to turn Penney's larger locations into emporia with 100 boutiques for hip but affordable fashion and home-goods brands.

Some comments on Facebook were in support of those efforts, which included the addition in March of Canadian fashion brand Joe Fresh.

On Twitter, Penney invited shoppers to tell them what they felt Penney should keep of Johnson's transformation and what it should bring back of what he jettisoned. The company created the hashtag #jcplistens.

Late in his tenure, Johnson reintroduced some coupons and promotions, but those appear not to have stemmed the sales slide.

Wall Street analysts expect same-store sales to fall 12.7 percent in the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data, adding to the urgency for Penney to win back its shoppers. Penney is set to report quarterly results later this month.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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