What JC Penney knows that Lowe's doesn't

What a difference between these two stores.

I hope they rebrand "JCPenney" as "Penney's" or "JCP" or something like that. Because this store is so different from what it used to be that it's literally unrecognizable.

Someone should highlight and brand its transformation to an affordable yet upscale, modern retail emporium.

Change the logo. You've earned it.

When I walk into JC Penney I instantly am greeted by everything right:

1. The store is spacious, well-lit, well-organized and clean

2. Sales staff are courteous and helpful

3. They've created their own mini-brands, in mini-boutiques, within the store, close together - good for the easily distracted shopper

4. It has Sephora

5. The mini-boutiques' brands are separate yet relate to each other in a meaningful, consistent way

6. Sephora

7. The items are true to a core "brand promise" - affordable quality

8. It's fun to shop there no matter who you are

9. No annoying music

10. Sales are "doorbusters," which sounds fun

11. Sephora

JC Penney is doing such a good job that even I am convinced, and I am snotty about places with a reputation for being "junk stores." It's not, anymore.

On the other hand, Lowe's has completely messed up its brand.

What happened? It's become a complete mess.

Quick story to illustrate:

The other day we needed to replace a piece of hardware in our home. We could have gone to Home Depot, which is not far.

Yet the power of Lowe's brand in terms of having a higher quality of this type of thing, and more selection, was such that we automatically decided to head over there.

Despite the fact that we didn't know how to go there.

So we "shlepped" through unfamiliar terrain, over roads we didn't know existed, through nauseous traffic....well, you get the idea.

But we did it willingly because we were sure that once we got to Lowe's our problem would be solved.

Boy were we wrong!

The minute we pulled up to the store it was bad.

Outside there was a haphazardly arranged display of plants.

Not to mention that the store sign looked dirty.

Inside we were confronted by...nothing.

Look left and there were immense rows and aisles and signage. Like Home Depot, except worse.

The ceilings were like 100 feet high, and the signs were way up there. I had no idea where anything was, and the signs didn't help. I "know" my own Home Depot, but still - this was ridiculous.

There were no salespeople. Nobody offered to help. Home Depot has Lowe's beat on this. There are armies of salespeople to help you at Home Depot.

Finally we find what we are looking for but it's in two separate aisles.

The first aisle has products from one or two manufacturers, and that's it. Not much choice at all.

The second one has a big display, but maybe only two or three second-rate choices of product.

Certain people in our visiting party are ready to leave more or less immediately. Enough time wasted. They are not happy.

I am sort of the opposite, stubbornly insisting that we make something out of the trip. I am not happy.

We are not happy.

Stubborn me walks around and around looking for help, an alternative, a solution so that we don't have to walk out of this store empty-handed.

No help to be found. I see cashiers somewhere in the vastness.

It's such a bad experience that we end up at the clearance washer-dryer section, looking at the set colored a jazzy red. Wishing we were there to buy a washer-dryer.

We linger looking at the flashlights for a minute. Do we need a new flashlight?

No. We shake our heads sadly. And walk out. Really annoyed.

Not happy campers, us.

Retailers must understand that the customer has a choice. We could simply buy everything online, in bulk, and call it a day. We go to a store for a positive sensory experience. It's not just a need, it's an activity that fulfills a need. Fun. Something to do.

Retailers must understand that it's a bad economy. If we're shopping, it's something we have to justify. They must cater to our different needs and shopping styles. They must know the customer.

They don't.

Lowe's has lost its way.

JC Penney has found it.

Lowe's could learn a lot from JC Penney.