Beyond multi-channel: Penney’s vision for the Internet’s role in retail

Mike Boylson, chief marketing officer at J.C. Penney, will outline Penney’s strategy for deeply integrating its e-commerce web site with the company’s stores and catalog in a keynote address at next week’s Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition.

Paul Demery

With 1,073 stores, a well-established catalog and the No. 15 e-commerce site in the U.S., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. would seem a prime example of a multi-channel retailer. But don’t tell that to Mike Boylson, Penney’s chief marketing officer, if you run into him at next week’s Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2008 in Chicago.

Boylson, who will give the keynote address Tuesday morning at the conference, has a vision that goes beyond multi-channel, a term he considers “very outdated.”

“The term connotes silos, and we’re breaking down those silos and merging our channels, rather than thinking differently about the direct business and the store business,” he says. “Long term, we’re positioned to have JCP.com be the hub of the brand. It’s the platform that customers more and more are going to access us through.”

Many already are. 240 million unique individuals visited JCP.com, Penney’s e-commerce site, last year. And a Penney survey found 80% of shoppers on JCP.com also go into Penney stores, and that two-thirds of customers research online before going into the stores. “Customers aren’t thinking about our brand by silos,” Boylson says. “They’re thinking of J.C. Penney, no matter how they access the brand.”

Seeking to deepen its cross-channel strategy, the retailer recently combined its channel-specific marketing organizations into one group. Last fall, the company introduced a feature to its web site called “know before you go” that lets consumers see the company’s store ads online and check the availability of a product in a local store.

That feature takes into account declining newspaper readership among Penney’s customers, Boylson says. He notes he recently met with executives of the Dallas Morning News, the city’s leading newspaper, who told him that the number of unique visitors to the paper’s web site each month now exceeds the number of paid subscriptions. “Customers’ shopping and media habits are changing pretty rapidly,” Boylson says, “so we have to get ahead of the curve.” How Penney plans to do that will be the topic of his talk Tuesday.


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