Johnson did away with the retailer's popular promotions program, alienating customers to the extent that sales plunged 32 percent.
Mark Ellwood, retail expert and author of the upcoming book "Bargain Fever," told us that Johnson's obliviousness to the plight of his value-conscious customers begs comparison to another doomed leader.
"Ron had a Marie Antoinette-ish approach to the customers," Ellwood said . "He always seemed slightly embarrassed that he was dealing in middle market product."
Like the "let them eat cake" French queen, Apple store prodigy Johnson could not relate to the people he was representing. Middle Americans were frustrated and confused when JCPenney stopped discounting merchandise.
Although Johnson later backtracked on this philosophy, the damage was done.
Johnson also reportedly didn't wear JCPenney merchandise unless he had to, and supposedly kept a closet full of the retailer's clothing in the office for emergency TV appearances.
"His attitude when he gave a rare interview was very much along the lines of 'let me tell them what's good for them,' rather than 'tell me what you want as a customer and let me see how I can achieve that,'" Ellwood said.
Johnson's alma mater, Apple, almost never has sales, but that approach doesn't work for JCPenney shoppers, writes Dale Buss at Forbes.
"(Johnson should have) got to know J.C. Penney shoppers a bit before he decided to treat them all like eager iPhone buyers who are so enamored of the merchandise that they don’t pay any attention to price," according to Buss.
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