J.C. Penney is channel agnostic: CEO at Shop.org's FirstLook

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ORLANDO, FL - The inevitable death of companies that do not evolve was the rallying cry of J.C. Penney chairman/CEO Mike Ullman, yesterday's morning keynote speaker at Shop.org's FirstLook conference.

After a brand video introducing the hip new J.C. Penney brand, Mr. Ullman delivered the speech to a packed hall just hours after the announcement that J.C. Penney had partnered with the Polo Ralph Lauren Group for an exclusive line.

"You have to have a five-year plan to stay relevant," Mr. Ullman told the e-commerce executives in the room. "You can't just celebrate the success of the last couple of years. Our five-year plan is to make the Internet the foundation for the architecture of the company."

He talked about joining a company that had already been brought back from hard times, and using that platform as a springboard into even more growth.

Mr. Ullman helped lead the firm's operating profit from 7 percent in 2005 to 9.5 percent last year. The ultimate goal is being the preferred shopping choice of men in the United States, and using multiple channels to accomplish this objective.

The Internet is a core channel for J.C. Penney, overtaking the catalog in sales last year. However, that doesn't mean that the catalog has become irrelevant, Mr. Ullman said. In fact, one of the resounding themes of his speech was that the future of retailing is all about multichannel sales.

"We are channel agnostic," he said at Shop.org's first major event of the year. "We don't care which way the customers come in as long as they come in."

And the channels at J.C. Penney have been blurred, as the retailer has integrated not only its catalog business online but also its e-commerce site into the store.

In the tradition of the J.C. Penney catalog desk in the store where sales associates have traditionally helped customers find items not available in the bricks-and-mortar location, the new J.C. Penney features Web-enabled terminals where customers can find items not in the store with the help of J.C. Penney employees.

The in-store Web terminals are not just about the shopper, but rather the entire experience of the sale through to the sales associate.

"This gives customers the opportunity to find pleasure in all three channels and it also gives sales associates more engagement," Mr. Ullman said. "In the last year our [ratings in a] survey on great places to work increased from 66 percent to 73 percent, just behind Starbucks who are rated at 75 percent by employees as a great place to work."

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