The Politics of Fashion: Retailers Get Creative in Dismal Economy

It’s been said that if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. But for retailers like Target and J.C. Penney, something needed fixing. Lagging behind their competitors in sales and arguably relevancy, Target and J.C. Penney needed to reassess their brand, which is exactly what they did. But these aren’t the only two major retailers who have revamped the direction of their company – did anybody notice Starbucks’ new logo? Exactly. Say goodbye to the “Starbucks Coffee” label and say hello to just the mermaid lady – a decision that now allows Starbucks to expand their brand into music and other ventures. Or try The Gap – who after several months of disappointing earnings – tried to breathe new life into the franchise by also changing their logo, which didn’t quite work. Nevertheless, much like Starbucks and The Gap, Target and J.C. Penney have decided to switch things up to remain competitive in this steadily evolving retail market.

Let’s face it: the economy has not been nice to any of us, especially retailers. As retailers are filing chapter 11 bankruptcies left and right, like K-Mart in 2003 and most recently Borders, companies have had to adapt in order to stay afloat. Instead of relying on a loyal consumer base, retailers have had to resort to creativity to retain their old customers and attract new ones. Whether that’s offering extreme deals on jeans, coats, and everything else under the sun at Old Navy or Kroger now having in-store demonstrations, retailers have had to get creative, particularly Target and J.C. Penney.

With Wal-mart experimenting more and more with fashion, an area known to be Target’s major draw to consumers, the bullseye retailer knew that something had to be done. To further expand its brand, Target has formed partnerships with other major retailers and designers in order to reach a broader consumer base, most recently Apple and Gwen Stefani. However, after the Missoni debacle that crashed Internet sites across the country and ruined the dreams of thousands of consumers, in addition to poor November and December sales in 2011, Target came under fire and had to rethink how to better manage these partnerships and how to interest consumers again. So, what did they come up with? Try creating exclusive pop-up stores across the country. Still not excited? Try a Twilight-themed pop-up store that launches February 10. Not your thing? Try “An American Girl in Paris” themed pop-up store designed by Jason Wu, launching February 5 (next week!). Your heart skipped a little, didn’t it? Mine did.

J.C. Penney, on the other hand, has had its own troubles. After becoming an afterthought in many consumers’ minds, evident by the retailer’s disheartening sales, Penney’s troubles had reached new levels, forcing the company to rebrand themselves entirely all within two months. And boy, is that what they did. With new management; the new “Every Day Low Price Strategy”; a new logo; a new layout; and new investments and partnerships, J.C. Penney, which will also change its name to jcpenney, is on a roll (Forbes). With a new pricing strategy that slashes prices by 40%, creating everyday deals rather than dispersed sales, J.C. Penney hopes that this new strategy lures consumers in the store more often. Will it work? No one knows. But by doing a complete overhaul in two months – a transformation that usually takes retailers a year or two – J.C. Penney is on a mission to completely change the perception of the department store. The question is: are you buying it?

Target and J.C. Penney’s new ventures have already generated excitement, which has become a necessity for survival in this economy. Consumers are no longer content with mediocre sales or in being loyal costumers – they want change, creativity, and a good deal all wrapped in one. The future of many retailers will rely on how they separate themselves from their competitors and what they can do for the consumer. With appealing pop-up stores, partnerships, new pricing strategies, merchandise, and layouts, Target and J.C. Penney have taken risks in order to remain competitive within the retail market. And in this economy, that is exactly what you have to do to survive.

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