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JC Penney Goes Beyond E-Mail With Desktop App

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NEW YORK With Web widgets all the rage, JC Penney has launched an old-school version with a desktop application designed to pipe deals and content directly to customers.

Independent shop T3 in Austin, Texas, and widget company Skinkers in London created the JCPToday application. It streams product offers from the retailer, twice-a-week fashion tips and reminders of personal events users enter.

A small window appears onscreen to alert users to updated JCPToday information. The application links back to products on jcp.com.

JC Penney intends the application to serve as a customer relationship management vehicle, engaging users beyond e-mail pushes, said Kate Donaho, group creative director at T3, which has handled JC Penney's e-mail campaigns for six years.

"E-mail continues to be a valuable way of talking to customers, but this gets a deeper connection by being part of the desktop and serves the user, not just JC Penney," she said.

JC Penney will target its existing e-mail marketing list to download the application. The core demographic for the department store is women age 25-55.

While Web-based widgets that can be embedded on blogs and social networking profiles have gained prominence, a desktop utility like JCPToday is more suited for this audience, Donaho said.

"We don't view it as a mass-marketing vehicle," she said. "We're banking on this being a useful way to reach a highly engaged set of customers. We don't expect millions of downloads of this by any stretch."

JC Penney is following in the footsteps of several brands that use such applications to keep in constant touch with customers. Johnnie Walker created "The Keep," which pipes news and other content to users, and Honda made a widget that brought real-time traffic conditions to the desktop.

T3 is updating JCPToday's content on a daily basis. The creation of content beyond sales pitches will be key to the applications success, said Donaho.

"We knew nobody is going to accept a direct pipe from JC Penny that's doing nothing but selling," she said.