Can J.C. Penney reinvent itself with its offbeat lab store?
J.C. Penney has spent years trying to differentiate itself as middle-of-the-road mall department stores have declined in popularity while nimble, experiential, niche retailers have caught on. As the chain tries to figure out what works for its brand, it announced the launch of a new lab/store location, which is geared towards experimenting with trendier offerings that are a big departure from what customers traditionally associate with the J.C. Penney brand.
The lab store, called Penney’s, opened in the Dallas-Fort Worth area early this month, as per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The store features an in-store salon/spa, an area where visitors can take selfies using a range of backdrops, a barber shop and store-hosted classes on topics like makeup application, cooking, health and wellness. J.C. Penney CEO Jill Soltau described the store as, “the fullest articulation of our customer-centered strategy, an investment in our future and a lab to inform decisions to return J.C. Penney to sustainable, profitable growth.” Experiments that prove successful with store visitors could lead to chain-wide rollouts.
Other sources report that the store location also features an area for video gaming and a yoga/fitness studio.
Penney has made numerous moves under multiple business leaders to reinvent itself since department stores began to experience a downturn.
At various points during the tenure of former CEO Marvin Ellison, Penney experimented with store greeters, expanded its selection of baby-oriented merchandise to capitalize on the closure of Babies “R” Us and reintroduced appliances (after pulling out of the white goods market 30 years earlier). Mr. Ellison left the chain in 2018 to join Lowe’s and Ms. Soltau discontinued appliance sales early this year.
Since Ms. Soltau arrived as CEO, the chain has experimented with initiatives like rolling out a new Instagram-inspired private label apparel brand and introducing branded outdoor shops into some locations in partnership with St. John’s Bay Outdoor.
One long standing partnership has stood out as a bright spot as J.C. Penney’s appeal has dwindled — its relationship with Sephora. A recent Motley Fool article, however, predicts that younger shoppers’ interest in competitor Ulta could snuff J.C. Penney’s saving grace.
- The JCPenney’s at North East Mall is about to get a coffee lounge, a spa and more – Fort Worth Star-Telegram
- Selfie studio, yoga, more: J.C. Penney launching flashy new store – Syracuse.com
- J.C. Penney dumps appliances – RetailWire
- Will bringing the outdoors inside stores work for J.C. Penney? – RetailWire
- Will greeters make Penney a more inviting place to shop? – RetailWire
- Will J.C. Penney’s new private brand connect with Instagram-savvy moms? – RetailWire
- Ulta Beauty Could Be Killing J.C. Penney’s Biggest Growth Engine – The Motley Fool
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will J.C. Penney succeed in discovering what its customers are looking for by experimenting far afield from its core offerings at its lab store concept? What features do you see being added to J.C. Penney that could possibly help turn the chain around?