JCPenney Adds Merged Channel Twist, Including Wake-Up Calls

A Web-generated wakeup phonecall to get customers to in-store early morning sales may not have a material impact on quarterly sales, but it's a creative touch for the E-Commerce site JCPenney relaunched right before Black Friday (Nov. 28).

It's almost unfair to even label it E-Commerce, because the site is equally focused on helping in-store sales. The in-store features—such as tracking in-store inventory on the site and allowing in-store POS units to access online-only products—aren't new to the space, but JCPenney has added some nice touches.

For example, in-store circulars are available online, which is common. But the JCPenney site replaces the ad drilldown with Web content detailing items, including sizes and colors available in the particular store the customer is asking about. Also new is what JCPenney describes as "enhanced color swatch capabilities."

In addition, the new version of the site has two different kinds of shopping cart features. The standard one for E-Commerce purchases and then a shopping list version—optimized for printing—for in-store purchases. It's a nice touch, with the printout including all of the model numbers and details needed. Nothing brilliant, mind you, but someone at JCPenney decided to pay attention to details, hoping to save consumers a few minutes.

Noteworthy Merged Channel Attempt

The in-store stock check capability is interesting, but it's only updated once an hour and isn't a true reflection of actual in-store stock levels, said Kate Parkhouse, a JCPenney Brand PR manager. "We overestimate to a certain point," Parkhouse said, adding that she wouldn't say how much of an overestimate the retailer gives to customers.

Those two limitations make the feature helpful without actually addressing that ever-present holiday shopping challenge: the supply chain black hole, where products show up as in-stock but may actually be unavailable for purchase because they are sitting in someone's shopping cart, in line to be purchased, mislabeled and sitting in the wrong department or lying behind a forklift in the warehouse.

But the JCPenney site is noteworthy and even praiseworthy in that it truly attempts to be merged channel. It's inching away from the world of online managers and in-store managers fighting to keep sales in only their jurisdiction.

Most major retailers today pay lip service to encouraging both avenues, but JCPenney seems to be embracing the concept a little more warmly. It's interesting how a little dash of economic disaster can help executives get comfortable with new areas. Panic can be a wonderful thing.