retail news in context, analysis with attitude

One MNB user writes:

The JC Penney situation is fascinating to me.  I’ve shopped the brick & mortar and online locations recently and have found really pretty, high quality dresses at great prices.  They have an American Living line of dresses similar to Ralph Lauren’s “Lauren” brand.  American Living dresses go for $50-$60 at JCP, and Ralph Lauren’s go for $120-$140 at Macy’s or Dillard’s.  The Sephora stations within JCP are a nice touch too.  There were years when I would never shop at JCP because the styles seemed dated, but now, with my recent experiences and purchases, they are high on the list.
I have no affiliation with JCP or the garment industry in any way, but thought it was worth chiming in because at least one person noticed a significant improvement in some of JCP’s offerings.

One of the questions I have - and we'll probably never know the answer - is whether Ron Johnson's strategy would have worked if he'd more time and less pressure.

From another reader, another experience:

The firing of Johnson was inevitable, but I agree hiring back the guy who was fired so Johnson could come in seems strange. I recently visited a Penney’s with my twenty something daughters. The younger didn’t even bother to look for clothes, the older looked but didn’t find anything she couldn’t live without. I spent around $60 on clothes. Not sure I am the demographic they are shooting for, but they did get some of my cash. I also was approached at check out time by a wandering clerk, unfortunately since I was paying with cash (I know, I know, but that is how I save for clothes shopping), I had to go elsewhere, she could only handle plastic. I though the store looked nice, it was busy, but not crowded. I do hope they can recover.

On the subject of the Zero TV trend, one MNB user wrote:

I was a little surprised that the comments about Zero TV revolved solely around the money individuals have saved by not subscribing to cable or satellite tv services.

I think people should be thinking more about the way cable and cellular companies have been allowed to divvy up the online access and media content markets in a noncompetitive way.  A campaign was started last year to encourage HBO to offer their HBOGO streaming service as a separate subscription service (right now you can only access it if you are an HBO subscriber through your satellite or cable provider).  HBO has declined, primarily because of the nature of their agreements with the providers – they can’t do anything to undercut subscriptions for the bundles of content offered by the cable and satellite companies.

You may have read the book "Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age," by Susan Crawford. This book posits that the government has been asleep at the switch and the cable companies in particular have been allowed to pick and choose where and at what price they will offer “high speed” internet (unlike telephone companies who were required from the start to offer service everywhere at nondiscriminatory prices).  The ownership of content by cable companies in particular has allowed them to stifle competition where they choose to operate by forcing other cable companies to buy bundles at high prices.
Google is doing its own digging to offer internet at blazing speeds – people in other countries get these speeds, often at prices below what Americans typically pay.  They are creating an environment, at their own expense, where we can wake up and have this discussion ... All of this is a lot to tell you that I think this is a huge deal, and as retailers want to offer mobile checkout and other services in their stores, how are they going to get the bandwidth to do this?  How much will it cost?

You're right. The shift we're seeing could have broad implications across a broad swath of business, society and culture.
KC's View: