Can Apple's retail genius rescue J.C. Penney?

News that Apple's empire-building retail architect will take over at J.C. Penney sent the department store's stock soaring. Can Ron Johnson really make Penney cool?

J.C. Penny
(Image credit: RICK WILKING/Reuters/Corbis)

J.C. Penney scored a major coup in nabbing Apple retail chief Ron Johnson as its next CEO, at least according to the markets. After the department store announced on Tuesday its hire of Johnson, who's widely credited with creating the Apple Store juggernaut, its stock shot up 17 percent, increasing Penney's market capitalization by $1.1 billion. Can Johnson bring some Apple magic to the flailing department store chain, or will this "deity of the digerati" find blouses a harder sell than iPhones?

Nobody could live up to this hype: Given the shopper exodus from the mall to the internet and specialty stores, "Penney certainly could use a magic touch," says John Jannarone at The Wall Street Journal. But as talented as Johnson is, turning the big, nebulous department store chain around "would be a superhuman achievement." He'll find that revamping store layout, appearance, and customer service — the key Apple Store selling points — won't be as easy at his new gig.

"Will Johnson be worth every Penney?"

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Don't sell Johnson short: Johnson is an old-school "merchant" at heart, says Laura Heller at Forbes. Don't forget that, before Apple, he helped transform Target from a dowdy retailer to a "cheap chic" success. I fully expect him to "inject more life and light to Penney’s stores, and to better incorporate technology." But it's his focus on the customer experience that will help define the department store's future. The market was right: "J.C. Penney scored. Big time."

"Apple's loss is J.C. Penney's gain"

Maybe Penney should sell iPads: The market's overreaction is just a sign that "Apple's reality distortion field has enveloped J.C. Penney," says Robert Cyran at Reuters. It's true that Johnson deserves ample praise for the Apple Store success, but come on, how hard is it to sell Apple products? "iPads and iPhones practically sell themselves. Wrangler jeans and American Living polo shirts don't." Johnson isn't a miracle worker.

"Apple's reality distortion field envelops JC Penney"

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