Monday, April 22, 2013

J.C. Penney: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

James Cash Penney (what a great name for a businessman!) bought his first store in 1907. The company has been publicly traded since 1929, and now operates over 1,100 J.C. Penney stores from its headquarters in Plano, Texas. In 2012 it had revenue of over $17 billion. The main About Us page is here.

By a remarkable coincidence, J.C. Penney has been in business 106 years, and their single About Us page has 106 words! We hope that the J.C. Penney site is about to undergo a major upgrade ... because what’s there now is sadly deficient. Given recent media hoopla over the firing of CEO Ron Johnson, we were hoping to find a website that stressed the company’s long heritage and presented this as a blip in the company’s illustrious history.

Personality: E
We are always happy to see the founder mentioned, particularly when the company still bears his name, and sure enough he is mentioned on the main About Us page: “More than a century ago, James Cash Penney founded his company on the principle of the Golden Rule: treat others the way you’d like to be treated – Fair and Square. His legacy continues to this day...”

And that’s it for history, corporate or otherwise. As befits its lack of content, the link to the About Us page is buried in the footer. Need we say that there’s no mention of when and where the original store was established, or how quickly it expanded, or the move from downtown to suburban malls, or remarkably early Internet sales? No mention of that big fat J.C. Penney catalogue, whose arrival was a major event for those who grew up far from either the neon lights of Broadway or suburban shopping malls?

There aren't even images of the old logos, which have a nostalgic value of their own, like those of John Deere that we mentioned in evaluating the John Deere About Us pages. And how about Annual Reports? In's history of The Pep Boys, another retailer with the same general demographic, the timeline included thumbnails of each and every Annual Report. J.C. Penney could similarly showcase its annuals or catalog covers.

People will go a long way for nostalgia: reminding them of why they used to enjoy shopping at J.C. Penney would be a perfectly good way to draw customers back. Unfortunately we felt more nostalgia while reading the page about J.C. Penney than we did on the company’s own site.

Products/Services: E
J.C. Penney has a long, rich history of selling tangible goods: their archives must be tremendous. There’s not a smidgen of that on the About Us page – not even photos of current products.

Accessibility: E
From the About Us page there’s nowhere to go but back: no navigation menus top or bottom. For contact information, we had to go to the footer of the home page, scan past offers of mobile updates, Twitter, Facebook, and an app, and click on the ambiguously labeled View All link. That finally took us to a page with various ways to contact the company, including a link to an online form (sent to an anonymous person).

When it comes to corporate memory, Penney’s seems to have amnesia. Maybe the recently deposed CEO Ron Johnson wanted it that way, since he fostered the cool, uncluttered, Apple Store approach – but that strategy crashed and burned. Shoppers want the Penney’s they’ve known and loved, and they deserve to find that corporate culture on Penney’s About Us pages as well as in its stores.

So: Think of who you are and where you’ve been. Think of who you’re trying to reach. An About Us page is a facet of marketing; pages such as J.C. Penney’s are missed opportunities of mammoth size.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.