Will JCPenney’s ‘new, inclusive beauty experience’ relaunch be a hit?

Photo: JCPenney
Oct 04, 2021

JCPenney plans to replace its Sephora in-store beauty shops with a broad focus on inclusivity, including across price points.

The Sephora partnership, launched in 2006, was seen as one of Penney’s few winners in recent years. It dissolved during last year’s Penney bankruptcy and is scheduled to end in 2023.

The department store retailer will open ten “pilot” JCPenney Beauty shops inside stores in mid-October and debut the revamped mix on jcp.com. Beginning in fall 2022, Penney will roll out the shops to the rest of the 650-unit department store chain.

Penney loses many of the prestige beauty brands that came with the Sephora partnership under the revamp, but the inclusivity push includes the return of mass brands such as Revlon and CoverGirl.

Overall, mass and prestige will make-up about half of the updated beauty mix while “masstige” — representing premium but accessible brands that Penney says fuels “the most innovation, growth, and experimentation,” will make up the balance. Favorites such as Skin Gym, Curlsmith, Alaffia, Solinotes fragrance and OPI will remain.

Will JCPenney’s ‘new, inclusive beauty experience’ relaunch be a hit?
Photo: JCPenney

The inclusivity push also includes an in-store shop from Thirteen Lune, an online destination for Black- and brown-owned beauty brands. Of the more than 170 brands in the initial mix, 39 are minority-owned.

“It’s really hyper inclusive,” Michelle Wlazlo, EVP and chief merchandising officer, told WWD. “We are very proud to say we are building a beauty business that fills our customers’ needs regardless of age, gender, race, skin tone, hair type, even beauty regime or budget. It’s really a strategy welcoming all customers — men, women, older, younger.”

Other changes include:

  • JCPenney Beauty will feature a number of exclusives, including Mirabella, Makeup Geek and several BIPOC-founded brands;
  • Penney will triple the range of haircare products to complement its long standing strong salon business;
  • Beauty purchases will count towards the department store’s rewards program, whereas past purchases supported Sephora’s loyalty program.

Penney continues to seek a new CEO after Jill Soltau exited in January, a month after the bankruptcy emergence under its new owner, Simon Property and Brookfield Asset Management.

JCPenney Beauty will face heightened competition, with Kohl’s adding Sephora in-store shops and Target adding Ulta Beauty shops.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of JCPenney’s plans for its post-Sephora beauty departments? Does the update offer any insights into how Penney should be repositioning its overall mix?

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"J.C. Penney couldn’t sustain a relationship with Sephora – one of the most successful cosmetics brands – so how will this latest effort be better? "

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17 Comments on "Will JCPenney’s ‘new, inclusive beauty experience’ relaunch be a hit?"

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Gene Detroyer

At least with Sephora, there might have been a reason for some to go to a J.C. Penney store. Now that reason is gone.

Mark Ryski

J.C. Penney couldn’t sustain a relationship with Sephora – one of the most successful cosmetics brands – so how will this latest effort be better? I understand that they needed to replace Sephora since the category is so critical, but this latest effort pales in comparison to what Kohl’s and Target are doing.

Christine Russo

Oh wow, that’s a major loss. HOWEVER makeup dupes are a big deal on UGC, social media, TikTok, etc. Creators are generating authentic content comparing prestige makeup to mass product and showing how similar they are. The same thing is happening with skin care. Dermatologists create content comparing prestige products to mass and will vouch for mass products’ effectiveness. J.C. Penney has an opportunity to capitalize on these trends for this shift.

David Spear

J.C. Penney faces a tough road ahead. With extreme competition and a tired brand, this new idea may attract short term interest but not long term profits. It’s a valiant effort and I applaud their experimentation, but it won’t hold a candle to more exciting, iconic brands that deliver better experiential moments for shoppers.

Perry Kramer

J.C. Penney is working through the short-term loss of Sephora as a destination location. However in the long term the broader set of products appealing to a broader set of customers in a demographic that may be better aligned to J.C. Penney’s is a win. Adding buyers and owned inventory and the associated supply chain issues to the mix, though, will ramp up costs that will have a longer payback cycle that everyone hopes J.C. Penney can work through.

Gary Sankary

Another miss for J.C. Penney. Losing Sephora will just add to the perception that the brand is not relevant. Another reason to visit J.C. Penney is gone.

Dick Seesel

The Sephora umbrella gave J.C. Penney credibility in cosmetics that it lacked before, and now the tie-up with Kohl’s will do the same thing for J.C. Penney’s main competitor. And both Sephora and Ulta are just as interested in “inclusivity” as any beauty retailer.

J.C. Penney has a lot of space committed to cosmetics — and may not be able to spend the money to remodel it — so it needs to use the real estate for the category. However this doesn’t feel like a volume driver in the face of what Target and Kohl’s are doing.

Neil Saunders

With Sephora, J.C. Penney did not need a separate beauty offer. However now that arrangement is coming to an end and it desperately needs to bolster and build its own beauty credentials. This new concept seems solid but, alone, I doubt it will be enough to reverse the fortunes of J.C. Penney. Beauty competition is intense and J.C. Penney’s wider battle is to get people through its doors – which requires a bigger reinvention than just beauty.

Dave Wendland

The good news is that beauty is definitely on the grow (off came the masks and everyone wanted to start buying skincare and beauty products).

The bad news is that Ulta and Sephora (and others) are moving out in front and J.C. Penney is once again playing catch up — and this reinvention will be anything but easy.

Although I wish them luck on this new approach, time will tell if shoppers respond with enthusiasm.

Liza Amlani

J.C. Penney is not my store of choice but if their product mix had Black and Brown founders that looked like me, I’d absolutely check out their beauty counter.

And that’s the point. The J.C. Penney customer is represented by brands that understand them, look like them, and can relate to them. Of course losing Sephora was a huge hit but this is an opportunity for J.C. Penney to serve their customer by creating an inclusive and diverse merchandising mix. And as a person of color who has never shopped at J.C. Penney, this will get me into the store.

Kevin Graff

I’m not going to knock them for trying to come up with something “new” (inclusivity, unfortunately, is new for most — but won’t be a differentiator for long as most will jump on this). The challenge for J.C. Penney, as for most every department store, is that for many, many years they have been “out-retailed” by pretty much every one else in the retail game. You can get a better product selection, better pricing, better service, better merchandising, better — well, everything! — at most every other specialized retailer. The middle-of-the-road department store model is dead, they just don’t know it yet.

Bob Phibbs

I sort of expect Advanced Auto Parts to add the category since everyone is doing beauty now. Is there really that much demand? For aisles of well-lit little boxes of cosmetics that can be as easily found at Rite Aid as at J.C. Penney? If someone added a personal touch of something more like Sephora or Ulta it could be helpful, but just more merchandise in a struggling brand? Color me doubtful.

Richard Hernandez

J.C. Penney has a lot of balls up in the air and the question is, will they have enough time before they start dropping them? I am glad they have a plan to replace Sephora but not only have they not determined what they want to be, they haven’t completed their remodels and they don’t have a CEO to steer the ship.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Sephora was one of the few reasons to shop at JCP. I’m doubtful that an undefined offering without marquee brands will draw consumers in big numbers.

Craig Sundstrom

“Lipstick on a pig” is the obvious metaphor that come to mind here, and while it’s probably a little unfair, it does serve to underscore the important point: JCP isn’t replacing Sephora, Sephora is replacing them. The “return” of mass market brands that can be found in every drugstore chain in America isn’t likely to excite, nor is inclusivity, however desirable that may be on its own merits. But what are their options?

Ricardo Belmar
A valiant effort by JC Penney to entice customers into the store as Sephora exits, but I am struck more by what JC Penney isn’t doing with this opportunity to differentiate. And that’s how they should be treating it — as an opportunity. The fact is, there are two powerhouses in the beauty segment today — Sephora and Ulta Beauty. JCP has lost its chance to partner with both. What does that leave them with? The opportunity to find what those two retailers might not have, a focus on inclusivity, bringing DTC brands to physical retail, and customer service. They’ve made their intention clear on the first point, but appear to have done nothing on the other two. There are many popular DTC brands in this space and JCP could be the department store to bring them to the mass market. If not, I am sure Macy’s will steal away that opportunity! As for customer service? This is JCP’s opportunity to bring in well-trained associates that can help ALL customers find the right products. Couple… Read more »
Kai Clarke

Going mainstream in their beauty line will reflect a more defined JCP. Why has JCP tried to be something that it is not for all of these years? JCP is a mass market department store with mass pricing, mass products and mass appeal. Focus on this and JCP will find its place at retail while reflecting the needs and desires of its true consumers.

"J.C. Penney couldn’t sustain a relationship with Sephora – one of the most successful cosmetics brands – so how will this latest effort be better? "

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