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.


9 Comments | Read JCPenney’s Christmas Pin Program: Channel Ping-Pong

  1. J. E. Anstett Says:

    What a ridiculous idea. Another example of a non-merchant playing games. Perhaps this was one of Johnson’s kids ideas? I can hear other real retailers laughing, all the way to the bank.

  2. ConsumerLambda Says:

    JCPenney needs to get its act together fast. Very fast. I see a Diplodocus happily munching grass while the meteor is about to hit the ground. BTW: The “Apple” legal mention is probably related to the iTunes gift codes that are offered as prizes.

  3. Linda Says:

    They need to make the site easier to find. I enter the and it takes me to everything but. It has taken me 45 mins to find it and haven’t won a darn thing. I have done a lot of shopping at Pennys and have gotten quite a few buttons but have won squat.

  4. Janet Hale Says:

    I have entered several codes and it keeps saying they have already been used. I just got them from the store.

  5. chandra Says:

    I too have read the dim reviews for the past limited promotion of JC Penney on the button thing at this point it reminds me of the kid game ” button, button who got the button” or was it ‘button ,button who stole the button” in any case i had much trouble getting into the site and entering the code (needed a magnifying glass to see the code) which was ridiculous and not a good promotion at this time of transition … I still have 8 buttons that i was not able to enter and I am mad. i hope I didn’t win big shame on the marketing management of JC Penney.

  6. Lori Says:

    Not sure why the problems, but we had customers win. I only had a few say they had trouble with the site, but with the folks & their tons of certificates, it must have been isolated.

    I didn’t hear of anyone winning merchandise or trips, but we’ve had customers win tons of the $5 & $10 certificates. I know of several who had stacks & well over $200. While you’re “only” supposed to redeem 2, the system didn’t stop us from redeeming all they had (had to be the same increments i.e. all $10 or all $5). Some were going by the T&C and with customers calling in to complain, HQ said to redeem all they had.

    And we gave out handfuls of buttons & still had some leftover Christmas Eve.

    I do agree the code was quite small. A lot of our customers seemed happy with it, but most didn’t seem to know about it, so we had a lot of educating to do.

  7. Jerry Says:

    This seems really insane. Why would you send a potential in store customer back home and to their computer. It doesn’t make any sense.

  8. Sol Says:

    I don’t think this technique was a home run for JCPenny at all. Sounded like a big waste of time if you ask me. Jerry is right. Why remove the customer from the store and set them back home in front of their computers?

  9. Jenifer Says:

    I read the dim reviews of past promotions and they are awful. I didn’t know about the codes either :( well said Jerry and Chandra :)


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