Does Back-to-School Represent a Turnaround for Penney?
Perhaps more than any of its chief competitors, J.C. Penney needs to have a strong back-to-school season. Aside from the season being Penney’s second biggest behind Christmas, the department store is looking to make up ground lost before, during and following Ron Johnson’s term as the company’s CEO.
One potential indicator that Penney is getting its business turned around comes from new research by Experian Marketing Services. It shows the chain’s website as second only to Walmart’s for back-to-school shoppers. Last year, Penney didn’t even crack the top 10.
The chain is touting its new Joe Fresh line for kids and emphasizing discounts on popular own-brands such as Arizona jeans and shirts. It also offers school uniforms, sneakers and other items that appeal to teens, tweens and their parents.
According to Experian, Penney got started earlier this year with its paid search campaign. A Google search on the term "back to school" conducted by RetailWire found Penney’s ad right behind others from IKEA, Comcast and Best Buy while ahead of Lands’ End. Another search, this time for school uniforms, had Penney at the top of the list followed by Zulily, Sears, Marks & Spencer, French Toast, Macy’s and Target.
Last year, Penney gave away free kids haircuts to draw shoppers to its stores. In the end, it was determined that haircuts didn’t translate into dollar sales and Penney chose to not repeat the back-to-school promotion.
Betsy Schumacher, senior vice president for children’s clothes, told The Dallas Morning News that she is much more interested in seeing if she and her team got the product mix right this year.
Ms. Schumacher, who joined the company about a year ago from American Eagle Outfitters and GapBaby before that, expressed optimism that they had.
"So much of it is fundamental retail," she told Maria Halkias of the Morning News. "We have the inventory. We have the denim. We have the extended sizes. We’ve revitalized our brands. We have new ideas on the floor. We focused the assortment."
While the news appears more positive for Penney, the chain still faces major challenges. Reuters has reported that CIT is no longer guaranteeing payments for future deliveries to the chain’s stores from small suppliers. Penney officials and representatives from the commercial lending firm met earlier in the week in an attempt to resolve the issue.
- J.C. Penney sprints ahead in back-to-school web traffic – MarketWatch
- Before you go back-to-school shopping, read this – USA Today
- J.C. Penney has a lot to prove this back-to-school season – The Dallas Morning News (sub. required)
- CIT cuts off credit to some J.C. Penney vendors – Reuters
What do you take from the findings of the Experian Marketing Services research about traffic to jcpenney.com? Do you think Penney will deliver the types of back-to-school results it needs to convince stakeholders that a turnaround is in the works?