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Retailing: The man from Apple

April 11, 2013

SHOPKEEPERS praise Apple?s minimalist stores almost as gushingly as designers do its hardware. In America its geeky sales people outsell those at Tiffany, a posh jeweller, measured by dollars per square foot of space. So when J.C. Penney, a struggling department-store chain, hired Ron Johnson, Apple?s top retailer, to be its boss in 2011 there was much rejoicing.On April 6th Mr Johnson was shown the door by the same investors who had ushered him in. His exit came shortly after J.C. Penney announced that sales in the fourth quarter of its fiscal year were 28% lower than a year earlier?the worst such collapse in retailing history, some commentators claimed. The chain lost nearly $1 billion during the year. Its share price dropped by more than half under Mr Johnson?s management. Bill Ackman, an activist investor who was instrumental in bringing him on board, admitted that his mistakes had brought the chain ?very close to a disaster?.American retailers are still feeling woozy from the financial crisis and intimidated by online rivals like Amazon. Department-store sales in 2012 were more than 10% below their pre-crisis levels. Employment in retailing has climbed only halfway back after job losses in 2008-09.But much of the pain at J.C. Penney was inflicted by Mr Johnson, who did not seem to like his new employer very much. The 1,100-store chain, one of America?s largest, caters...

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