What Do Employees Think of Sears, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s?

You have probably read a lot of news about Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD  ) , J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) , and Macy's (NYSE: M  ) recently. If that's the case, then you have been reading a lot of negative news for Sears and J.C. Penney, and a great deal of positive news about Macy's.

While key metrics are important, if you want to see if a company is likely to show sustainable growth in the future, then you should also look at its company culture. Happy employees tend to produce more, and they usually offer better customer service, which keeps consumers coming back. Unhappy employees often feel resentment toward their employer. This leads to many employees going through the motions and offering subpar customer service, which leads to fewer sales.  Therefore, you wouldn't want to invest in that company. 

Company culture performance doesn't guarantee future results, but it's an important piece of the puzzle, and a factor that every investor should consider. The results below, based on anonymous employee ratings and reviews of their employers on Glassdoor.com, are certainly interesting.

Not a long-term option 
Sears employees have rated their employer a 2.6 of 5 (based on 1,565 ratings), which is subpar. More concerning is that only 30% of employees would recommend the company to a friend. Of the 10 most recent anonymous employee reviews, one of them was especially scathing and potentially telling: "I'd never be dumb enough to think of this place as a long-term option. They probably won't last another five years."

Also, of the 10 most recent reviews, five employees answered the question of whether or not they were optimistic about the company's future. Only one of them said yes. The other four said no.

The biggest employee complaints: high-pressure sales irritate associates and customers, micromanagement, and too many managers. It was also mentioned that iPads don't work half the time and that no one is impressed that Sears employees are using them.

One positive mentioned more than once: flexible scheduling.

It should come as no surprise that the company culture is poor at Sears, which could be indicative of a company that is giving up, or at least going downhill. But J.C. Penney's company culture might surprise you.

Surprising results 
J.C. Penney employees have rated their employer a 3 of 5 (based on 1,453 ratings). Only 46% of employees would recommend the company to a friend, but many of these ratings might have come from when Ron Johnson was in charge. In fact, of the last 10 people leaving ratings and reviews, four of them answered the question of whether or not they were optimistic about the company's future, and all four answered yes. 

The biggest negative reported by J.C. Penney employees was that it's mandatory to work some nights and weekends. However, there have been far more positives recently. These include pay/benefits, hard-working coworkers, a positive atmosphere, a professional environment, quality training, generous employee discounts, and easy communication with management.

Could this be one area where J.C. Penney outperforms Macy's? If so, investors might want to take note of it. 

Positives outweigh negatives 
Macy's employees have rated their employer a 2.9 of 5 (based on 3,148 ratings). This is slightly lower than J.C. Penney, but 48% of employees would recommend the company to a friend, which is slightly higher than J.C. Penney.

It appears to be somewhat of a draw between Macy's and J.C. Penney when it comes to company culture. However, of the last 10 people leaving reviews, four of them answered the question of whether or not they were optimistic about the company's future, and only two of them said yes. This is a small sampling. Take that into account. But it's still worth noting.

The biggest negatives reported for Macy's were the need for more interactive training and the company being more focused on selling credit than merchandise. Positives outweighed negatives by a wide margin, including an upbeat environment, advancement opportunities (if you work hard), flexible scheduling, employee discounts, a good work/life balance, and friendly coworkers.

What does it all mean?

The Foolish takeaway
What we can learn from this study is that Sears has a company culture that's failing, which seems to go hand-in-hand with the current public perception of the brand. This is concerning in regards to the long-term outlook for the company. In other words, it's one of many reasons that you might want to avoid Sears as a potential investment option. 

Though facing steep challenges, J.C. Penney has an average company culture, which is better than what most people would expect. This might be one indication that J.C. Penney has a better chance at a turnaround than Sears. However, this doesn't mean J.C. Penney would be a good investment at this time by any means. J.C. Penney is still highly promotional in order to increase traffic and sales. Therefore, sustainable profitability will be difficult to achieve. 

The company culture at Macy's is also average, which is good enough for a retailer. Macy's doesn't have to worry about turning itself around at the moment, and the woes and store divestitures of Sears and J.C. Penney are only going to help Macy's see market-share gains. This might act as a positive catalyst for Macy's. 

Macy's is likely to present a better long-term investment opportunity than Sears or J.C. Penney, but please do your own due diligence prior to investing. 

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Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 8:48 AM, vej6693 wrote:

    My daughter works for Sears in Chicago and hates it. Employees are leaving on there own, then the people who are left are expected to pick up the slack as no replacements coming in. Her boss has repeatedly told her she needs to do more and is very unprofessional when she does so. My daughter needs to get out of there quickly before they drive her crazy.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 12:03 PM, amykins wrote:

    My Son's worked for one of the Auto Center's in Florida and they recently quit. Worst job they ever had. They have actually filed a formal complaint with Sears holdings as one of them was threatened after he turned in his resignation notice and the disrespect the manager and longer term employees have for customers and fellow employees is truly awful. Manager truns a blind eye as he is one of the worst offenders and tells the employees to go against company policy when servicing vehicles.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 4:58 PM, spintreebob wrote:

    Customers left JCP due to its major stock holder, not JCP employees. With that disaster out of JCP, customers might come back.

    Sears customers and salespersons are in the same boat, as illustrated by the comment about too much management. Despite good plans from the top and dilegent employees at the bottom, middle management sabotages everything. The more layers of management under an asst vp, the more important he is..and his compensation. And so on down the hierarchy. For example, top and bottom have wanted to replace the "buyers" bureaucracy with just-in-time inventory replenishment. Middle management wants humans to review monthly reports the middle of the subsequent month to determine what to replenish. Result? The shelves in the stores are out of the size and color customers want and have the size and color they don't want. The employees can't make commission because the shelves don't have what the customer wants. Not surprising the employees are demoralized.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 7:52 PM, angelsgiggle wrote:

    Where you got your info is beyond me.....I work for JCP and have for years.

    They have recently cut hours, cut pay, putting many on commission or as our joke goes, 4% of zero is zero. No one is allowed more than 20 hours and our full time people are losing every thing they have.

    The moral is horrible and we are hopeless. Our stock price is what? $5? Or is it lower.

    No, this is the retail Titanic. We're all going down.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 8:55 PM, spintreebob wrote:

    angel, the reason your working conditions have "tightened" is because the former major stock holder made bad decisions that drove the customers away,. It is not the fault of salespersons that JCP went down. But, unfortunately, they are asked to make sacrifices for JCP to come back. Is it fair? No. Success requires a complete game by all the players. Failure of players in one area always causes issues for the other players.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 9:20 PM, lucyd wrote:

    Ron Johnson single handedly destroyed JCP....and he is off making millions while he left the employees at JCP to pick up the pieces.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 11:04 PM, jammerkid wrote:

    Sears works their 'commission only' sales people almost everyday after the store has closed, and they will send commissioned associates to another department to take care of customers when they are needed. A commissioned salesperson CANNOT MAKE MONEY in either situation. Only Sears is reaping the benefit. Sears managers tell their commissioned workers that they signed a agreement to do this free work when needed, but a manager will not show you the agreement. I was advised by an attorney to do a 'class action suit' but I did not have the money to do anything. Managers are the ones who ruin a business.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 11:06 PM, A44 wrote:

    Was a former worker for JCP during the Ron Johnson hire and after he left. We are TOLD to do one thing with threat of dismissal if we don't uphold the company policy, yet offered no back-up when pushed by the customer. The managers become wienies and just give in to unethical and unfair demands of customers who just want what they want. I've watched good people lose their jobs because they tried to hold to company policy knowing it would be their job - only to get in more trouble for doing so. I left before it happened to me. It was only a matter of WHEN - not IF.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 3:33 AM, daverhall wrote:

    JC Penny's and Sears used to have some good values for customers. but because of outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries and owners trying to make a fast profit with little sales are damning themselves to failure very soon. If instead companies had decided to be dedicated to America then our economy would have been in very good shape and most families would be happier and stronger and the US would be leading the new developments and generating big profits for all of us. Greed destroys us all.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 9:39 AM, Maria3190 wrote:

    I work for sears and I hate it. They give you hours based on the # of customers you get to apply for there super high interest credit cards and how much ppl you get to sign up for shop you way rewards. During the holiday season they don't care how much you get, they just slave you especially the underage kids. They have them work 40+ hours per week which is illegal and tell you that you can't request off starting thanksgiving week. The managers are very unprofessional and no matter how long you've been working there refuse to give you any type of raise not even a penny raise they keep you at minimum wage.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 9:52 AM, Maria3190 wrote:

    Sears wastes so much receipt paper on useless coupons that 99percent of our customers don't even utilize. They also send emails to members of the shop your way rewards program members that say they have a certain amount of points just to get them to come into the store. I have had a countless number of customers come in and tell me that they have $10+ In sywr and when I check there only a few cents. They trick customers to come in to the store just to make a sale even if it's just $5. The clothes at sears are very cheap and shrink easily. I've had many customers come in to return items that have either shrunken dramatically or ripped after the first use. I was went to the back room where they keep all the merchandise and check this out they have blouses with tags on them that said 9.99 and they had one I the employees ripping them off and putting a whole new tag on them with a price of $40. I know that's there way of making profit but the blouse was of very bad quality. The clearance deals sears has for 1.99-4.99 is what the clothes are really worth.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 9:56 AM, Maria3190 wrote:

    There is so much more I can say about sears but I'll be on here all day. By the way Sorry for all the grammar mistakes I'm using my phone right now and I was typing it in pretty fast and didn't notice.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 11:59 AM, SearsEmployee wrote:

    As a commissioned sales associate at a Sears location in NYC, I'd love to give Moskowitz a rundown of a typical day at work:

    * A single sales transaction takes approximately five to ten minutes, because the SNC (handheld ringing device) is either: not connected to WiFi; offers a communication error when pairing to the register; or the scanner is broken and I must manually enter the UPC code of each item.

    * I must assure customers that it's safe to swipe their credit cards into the sled of the handheld device. Approximately 1 out of 5 customers have concerns that the device is my personal phone OR that their information will be compromised (as many have been wary to use credit cards since the Target scheme).

    * A 'Store 2 Home' transaction (an order placed on Sears.com via a kiosk in the store) can become a nightmare for an associate. If the item is only offered from a 3rd party vendor on Sears.com, the customer will ONLY receive an electronic receipt. Our kiosks are not paired with printers. This becomes problematic (and it happens often!) when a customer does not have an email address (think elderly gentleman) and he opts to pick up the item at the store. When the item arrives at the store (or there's a holdup with delivery to the home), there's no physical receipt for tracking purposes.

    * Returns/Price Adjustments: Imagine having a great sales hour on December 23rd. You sold 10 Christmas trees @ $300 a pop in one hour. You receive 2% on each tree. Awesome! Right? Not so fast. The customers can come in any time within 14 days for a price adjustment. And that money will come out of your pocket.

    * Feeling a little jumpy lately? Of course you do! That's because management is breathing down your neck about secret shoppers and some nutjob named Sozzi with a camera. It's not clear how it becomes YOUR responsibility to prevent someone from clearing off shelves for a photo opp, but you must be on the lookout!

    * Non-stop training. It's annoying, but it can be very helpful. Associates must login to "Game On" regularly to 'level up' in their department. If you want to sell appliances, electronics, tools, sporting goods or lawn and garden equipment, you better know your merchandise. If you fail these tests, you're out of a job.

    * Trying to scrape by is rough. With a $6 an hour base (earning 1 to 2% on each item), Sears sales associates are barely scraping by to support themselves. On an decent day, a sales associate makes approximately 8 to 10 dollars an hour. On a bad day, he/she won't make minimum wage.

    Overall, going 'electronic' was a horrible idea on the part of Sears because the store's demographic is not 'hip' or comfortable with the use of unreliable/slow/broken/inferior "technology." The associates are expected to jump through hoops and they're not compensated properly. The environment is stale, the actual cash registers (which are to be phased out in the near future) run on an outdated DOS-based POS system that is programmed with obsolete options (let's not discuss the keys on the registers which are missing most letters and numbers; we use markers/pens to write "T" and "C" on the Total/Clear keys to help new associates open the cash drawer). The company does very little to satisfy its associates AND customers. If Sears cared about customer loyalty/satisfaction, it would stop driving all its focus on 'going electronic' and refocus its energy on KEEPING its associates and customers. We're all leaving, Sears! Pick your heads up from your SNCs and iPads -- we're walking out the door.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 1:29 PM, 82dreamcatcher wrote:

    I hope penney's goes outta business. I had wrked for em for over 10 1/2 yrs. I round up getting canned for a stupid, idiotic reason. since then, I hv refused to shop there again. and I dnt recommend nebody applying there to wrk either.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 9:11 PM, Simpee wrote:

    Sears, Kmart, Wal-Marts, Target, and J.C. Penny are terrible companies to work for. They treat their employees like crap, and expect everything in return. Time to send these companies down spiraling to the bottom. Their upper level management have no clue what is going with their own stores. Personally I would fire every worthless Corporate moron including the CEO.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 9:15 PM, Simpee wrote:

    Sears, Kmart will be the first company to go down the drain. Anyone who works their employees on Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve until 10pm or later does not give a damn about their employees. Time to send the CEO of Sears Holding out the door, and lock it behind him or her.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 1:55 AM, peep1000 wrote:

    Just going into Sears is depressing. All the stores I've been in are in serious need of repairs and updating. I used to work for H&R Block and my store was in Sears. It was extremely depressing - even in the late '90's. I'd cashiered before, but we were stuck with Sears cash registers and they were so old and complicated it was ridiculous. I used to go there for their toy section - now nonexistent - and one of them back home in Oregon used to have a candy counter...that's where I fell in love with candy corns! I always got to get a pound when I was a kid. Of course I had to share with everyone else, but that's beside the point.

    It started going down-hill really fast when they changed their marketing to "the softer side of Sears." Sears has always been known for hardware...why switch to clothing???

    The first thing they need to do is bring all their stores up to par. Since that's not going to happen because it'll cost more than anyone in their right mind would be willing to spend.

  • Report this Comment On February 06, 2014, at 5:21 PM, SomewhereUpstate wrote:

    I question the accuracy of the article's information about JC Penney. My experience and research have lead to a considerably different conclusion: JC Penney's employee moral at the store level is in the toilet. Full-time employees, including myself, are being furtively pushed out the doors. Managers tend to offer little support or respect for their sales associates. Registers are often old and in disrepair. And sales associates are continually being asked to do more with less. Additionally, pressure to sell credit cards (ICAP's) at JC Penney (at least at my store) has become more and more intense in the 14 years that I have been employed there. (I have been a full-time employee with benefits for about ten of those fourteen years.) Our goal of one card per week when I began has turned into a quota of one per shift or one per $1200 in sales, whichever comes first. Our goals used to be one of many factors that were considered in our yearly evaluations. Now, they are, for all practical purposes, the only factor that matters. In December, I was informed by the store manager that, unless I reach or exceed this "goal" (quota), I will see my hours reduced in January. The manager followed through on her threat, and I am now employed as a part-time employee with 20 hours per week. When I mentioned to the manager that I ask every customer to open a card, she simply said that I must not be trying hard enough. When I explained all the other things I do (generating repeat business and customer compliments, training in supervising new associates, etc.), she all but told me that this no longer matters unless I am getting a lot of ICAP's. When I told her that I always ask, but I will not lie or harass, she said that I had the wrong attitude. And when I mentioned the pushy, and duplicitous methods used by the star ICAP associates, she said that I was just jealous of them. Oh, and by the way, the two dollars we receive for opening these cards is little motivation to most of the employees in the store. The motivation is to mitigate the amount of time the managers pressure us, as well as to prevent the managers from reducing our hours. Also, while they have yet to fire someone at my store, they will reduce our hours until we decide that it is not worth working there. I have had enough, and I am looking forward to getting a job with a business that treats both its employees and its customers with respect.

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