Janesville43°

Considering Penney's pullout and retail struggles

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Greg Peck
January 17, 2014

I don't spend a lot of time shopping at JCPenney's in the Janesville Mall, but I'll bet I've already spent more there this year than the wide majority of you reading this.

How so? Well, I got an eye exam in late December and, on Jan. 2, with a new year of money pouring into my flex spending account,  I ordered new glasses that cost more than $450. You might think that price a little high given discounts you see optical shops advertising on TV, but because of all the reading I do, these glasses have “progressive” lenses and about all the bells and whistles you can add to lenses. Each is an upcharge.

(Backstory: Besides my regular glasses, I have prescription sunglasses and prescription goggles for playing racquetball. I bought all three sets at a different local optical center, but one lens in my regular glasses kept cracking. When the store stopped replacing that lens without charge and wanted to bill me big money to replace it, I started exploring other optical centers. Another one suggested the reason for the hairline cracking is the lens was too large and being squeezed into the frame. Well, no kidding, I thought. I decided to buy at Penney's because I thought the price was reasonable, in comparison, and it would be convenient to stop for frame adjustments. I had no idea Penney's soon would close.)

I have purchased men's clothing from time to time at Penney's through the years, as well as a few gifts. But to be honest, outside of these eyeglasses, I believe I spend more money more regularly at each of the mall's three other anchor stores—Kohl's, Boston Store and Sears.

Penney's isn't the only retailer that's struggling, of course, and I wonder how many retailer woes are of their own making. Like many companies, lots of retailers have let customer service slide by shedding employees in hopes of reaping more profits. They do so at their own risk.

Here's a prime example. My wife, Cheryl, had a zipper break on her winter coat a couple of weeks ago. She debated whether to find someone to install a new zipper or simply buy a new coat. She went to a large local retail store and found a coat she liked. She reached a cash register just behind a woman who was returning a pile of merchandise. A second cash register sat empty.

Another customer headed for a different department to reach a clerk, and Cheryl realized she could do likewise. The clerk busy with the returns didn't call for a second clerk, no doubt because none was available. Cheryl became annoyed that the clerk didn't even acknowledge her, say she was sorry that she would be tied up a while or even suggest that Cheryl seek a clerk elsewhere. Cheryl put the coat back on the rack, walked out and instead found someone to replace the zipper in her coat. A sale lost. Not that it will affect the store's bottom line, or even be calculated. I don't want to be smothered by employees asking if they can help me. But when stores cut corners by hiring too few clerks, customers can be left frustrated and lost sales add up. How long before the next store closes?

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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