Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sneak preview: J.C. Penney takes Manhattan

I took a press tour yesterday of the new J. C. Penney store (Manhattan's first) at the newly renovated Manhattan Mall in Herald Square, close to Macy's New York flagship. The two-level 150,000-sq.-ft. store, which opens July 31 (soft launch today, July 23), is designed to serve an enormous customer base that includes local residents, commuters, business travelers and tourists.

I met with John Wise, VP director store planning and design for J.C. Penney, and he explained the decisions behind some of the store's unique touches.

For convenience and speedy checkout, the store features nearly 100 registers and an electronic queuing system that directs customers to available registers and informs customers of their estimated wait times. The system, by Lawrence Metal, is very cool and creates a seamless checkout experience without associates having to yell for the next customer to step down. Predicted wait times are also displayed on a flat-screen TV at the checkout area.

"We first heard about the system at Global Shop, and later tried it out in one of our Texas stores," Wise said. "We had great success with it there and after we made the change, our customer satisfaction rose 12 points, which is tremendous. If it succeeds here, and we know it will, we hope to roll it out to more stores moving forward."

Typical J.C. Penney stores have 10- to 11-ft. ceilings, but Wise was working with an 8-ft. one in Manhattan. "We didn't want shoppers to feel closed in, so we hung panels at different levels to give the ceiling depth and break up the eye. Plus, it gives the impression that you are in a New York City loft."

Continuing with that theme, the juniors and young men's department have graffiti in the dressing room. Meanwhile, brand names are wrapped around the stores' columns, which have faux brick wallpaper that further adds to the "loft" feel.

The store also has an interactive touchscreen unit that allows customers to browse (Think giant iPhone). I have to admit that it's pretty amazing. The company is testing this out in five other locations, and this alone makes me want to go back to the store soon.

The location also features LED lighting, and includes a 2,000-sq.-ft. Sephora beauty boutique.

Want to see more pictures? Check them out here.

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