JCPenney’s Christmas Pin Program: Channel Ping-Pong

Written by Frank Hayes and Evan Schuman
December 5th, 2012

JCPenney is in the midst of an aggressive holiday promotion in which shoppers are encouraged to take coded buttons from store associates and, perhaps, win prizes including giftcards, a vacuum cleaner or a coffeemaker. The “Merry Christmas, America” campaign, though, suffers from two key flaws: reverse merged-channel-itis, where customers need to awkwardly go through multiple channels to find out whether they’ve won anything, and no opportunity within these unnecessary but mandatory channel-hops for shoppers to actually buy anything.

Such flaws could be more easily overlooked were this a minor promotion that no one has focused on. But stickers for Merry Christmas, America adorn almost every door to JCPenney stores, and it involves almost every associate and customer-service desk. The idea is that customers ask associates for some holiday-themed pins (three to a customer at any one time seems to be the rule). The back of the pin has a sticker with seven numbers and letters on it.

The easy approach would be to peel off the sticker to determine a prize or to enable a quick scan of a barcode or QR code to reveal the same. Instead, the shopper needs to go a campaign-specific URL (which is not written on the pin but happens to be The code is entered on the site, but the customer isn’t then told if he or she has won anything. No, that information only comes through a third hop, when an E-mail arrives.

The strategy behind merged-channel is to encourage whichever channel is most convenient and attractive for the shopper. If some shoppers are most likely to shop via the E-Commerce site or the mobile site versus in-store, then, by all means, encourage that. This JCP program, however, forces customers to go to a store, and they must do so from November 23 through December 24—when the stores are likely to be the most crowded. Had this been a program to get shoppers into stores in late August, that might have made more sense. But pushing customers who would rather shop online to go into stores during the most crowded weeks?

Assuming the goal is to get customers in-store, why send them off to the Web site and then only inform them via E-mail, with likely stops in the land of spam/junk-mail filters? Other than collecting E-mail addresses (which can certainly be obtained with less effort), what’s the point?

By the way, if the program’s terms and conditions are to be believed, the chain has prohibited itself from even using those E-mail addresses for retail purposes. “The information you provide will only be used for purposes of administering this Promotion, including winner notification and gift award,” the T&C say. Then again, the T&C later contradicts that statement by saying: “By entering this Promotion, you are opting in to receive additional E-mail and/or mail communications from JCP, its affiliates and licensees.”

One good point would be if the landing page was designed to help customers find great items within JCPenney. This would be especially true if the shopper is accessing that site via a mobile device while still inside that JCPenney store, perhaps even while riding JCPenney’s Wi-Fi network.

Alas, under the “huge opportunity squandered” category, neither the mobile nor Web site versions of the campaign landing page seems to even acknowledge that JCPenney sells stuff for a living.

Beyond clean functionality to check whether the number entered is a winner, the page is adorned with a series of Christmas tree images made up of lots of pins, none of which are clickable. Could JCP have had each pin represent a compelling product and then enable customers to click through to descriptive pages? Apparently not, because the pages show neither products nor any meaningful links to such products.

By the way, the chain opted to not go politically correct, labeling the campaign for Christmas—as in “Merry Christmas, America.” That’s cool. But why, then, does the tree have a Dreidel? Once JCP used a Christmas label, we think the boat sailed on trying to include Jewish customers.

Getting back to the site, shoppers can do virtually nothing beyond arrive, type in a number (and fill out a form) and leave. We tested this promotion using the JCPenney app on an iPhone riding a JCPenney Wi-Fi network, and there was no functionality to enable the app to understand that we were standing inside a physical JCPenney store. Had a halfway decent promotion been offered, walking 40 feet to see it would have been hard to resist. And yet, the app seemed oblivious as to where we were, despite the many clues. Another opportunity lost.


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