FINANCE

J.C. Penney has strong October; claims turnaround progress

BY Dan Berthiaume

Plano, Texas – J.C. Penney says it is making continued progress in its turnaround after reporting some strong financial results for October 2013. Preliminary results indicate that compared to the same month in the prior year, same-store sales increased 0.9%, online sales grew 37.6%, and conversion continued to improve, which Penney says reflects favorable customer response to promotional events and improved inventory levels.

The same-store sales growth is the first positive same-store sales Penney has reported since December 2011. In September 2013, its same-store sales declined 4%. Penney attributes its improved sales trends to the restoration of inventory levels in key private brands, including St. John’s Bay, Stafford, and jcp Home, and significant sales increases in Levi’s, Nike, Carter’s, Dockers, Alfred Dunner, Vanity Fair and Izod. The company also opened 30 new Sephora inside Penney locations in October, bringing the total to 446 locations.

"J.C. Penney has made significant progress in addressing the challenges it faces, and we believe the company is on the right track to return to long-term profitable growth," said Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III, CEO of J.C. Penney. "We are proud of our October sales improvement, which we achieved despite the federal government shutdown and a challenging consumer environment. Not only did we deliver positive same-store sales for the first time since December of 2011, we also saw significantly improved sales trends in home and men’s apparel, as well as women’s accessories. We expect the holiday season to be extremely competitive, and we are ready to win."

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Retail Rap: Shades of Gray in Black Friday

BY Jeff Green

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has begun to notice some changes in that most iconic of holiday shopping events: Black Friday. From earlier start times, to new and more elaborate marketing and promotional efforts, Black Friday has evolved into something very different than a one-day holiday season kick-off sale. This year, we are already seeing an expansion of that trend, including changes that might give us insights into the mindset of many brick-and-mortar retailers as they prepare for the final sprint to the seasonal finish line.

The first and most noticeable difference in the holiday shopping dynamic this year is that virtually everything is happening earlier. Just when you think the holiday shopping season can’t get started any sooner, 2013 proves you wrong, with some brands already working hard to push their holiday strategies as early as the end of September. To put that into perspective, the last official day of summer was September 21st! With a soft second quarter and back-to-school numbers still on the minds of retailers, it seems clear that retailers are trying to get a head start holiday season. “Panic” might be too strong a word, but there is clearly some concern. As I mentioned in an earlier article, it is also worth noting that there are six fewer days of holiday shopping this year between Black Friday and Christmas (and one fewer weekend), contributing to the general sense of urgency.

The early trend continues to filter into Black Friday, with a number of chains announcing that they will be opening at 8:00 pm on Thanksgiving. Macy’s, Bon-Ton, Kohl’s and JCP are among the brands that are helping to continue the metamorphosis of Black Friday into more of a Thursday night phenomenon. Wal-Mart began its online holidays on Nov. 1, and Toys R Us also began airing holiday adds sooner than in 2012.

My biggest question about the early start to holiday sales is whether or not it works. I can’t help but wonder how much, if any, impact it will have on sales. Last year, virtually every employee I spoke to at several different brands mentioned a similar phenomenon: after the hustle and bustle of the initial opening, there was a pronounced lull that didn’t really pick up until prime-time shopping hours on Friday. In other words, whether that initial door-buster rush takes place at 8 p.m., midnight, or 5 a.m. on Friday, the overall shopper/sales volume seemed to be fairly similar. So is this strategy based on getting folks in the door, or just something that more brands are doing because they feel like they can’t afford not to — an effort to keep up with the proverbial Joneses?

The impact of those door-buster loss leaders is also pretty marginal (at least in terms of direct sales, where they represent a fractionally tiny percentage of total sales). They are more of a marketing tool than anything else. Plus, the shopper who is motivated and focused enough to get up off the couch on Thanksgiving and go stand in line to take advantage of those deals tends to be fairly zeroed in on one or two specific items—there is not a lot of impulse buying going on.

While it’s interesting to think about how the mechanics of the big kick-off events have changed, the reality is that Black Friday itself is simply not as important as it once was. Ironically, that’s not because it has gotten smaller, but because it has gotten bigger. It’s not a Friday event anymore — it’s a true weekend-long event (that starts on Thursday night). It is the same phenomenon we are seeing with Cyber Monday, which has now turned into Cyber Week. And, as the shopping season continues to start earlier and earlier, the impact of any single day of shopping, no matter how well promoted, will continue to be diluted.

Retailers are well aware of the overall importance of the holiday shopping season, of course — arguably more so than ever. A recent piece right here in Chain Store Age highlighted just how comprehensive Target’s 2013 holiday campaign truly is: a multi-channel initiative that includes a big promotional push, an extended price-matching initiative (that expands the usual seven-day window to nearly two months during the holidays), and an expanded in-store pick-up program that provides online shoppers with a same-day in-store pick-up option. What I find especially intriguing about Target’s efforts is not just how extensive they are, but how they seem to demonstrate retailers’ ability to become increasingly savvy and sophisticated about their online and brick-and-mortar synergies. From cross-channel promotions and coordinated social media initiatives, to the in-store pickup options and price-matching, it’s almost a new way of utilizing brick and mortar. I’ll be very interested to see how they promote and execute these programs in the weeks ahead.

What do you think? I’d love to hear about what you’ve seen out there this year — especially any examples of brands leveraging Black Friday and other holiday sales promotions in new and inventive ways. Join the conversation by leaving your comments below or emailing me at [email protected].


Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.

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JCP manages October comp increase!

BY CSA STAFF

J.C. Penney scored a major victory during October with same stores sales up 0.9%. That may not seem like much, but for a company that has been written off by many the meager increase offers an encouraging tailwind heading into what retailer’s nationwide expect to be a challenging holiday season.

According to the company, it continues to make meaningful progress in its turnaround. The 0.9% October comp is evidence of that as was a 37.6% comp increase at JCP.com and favorable customer response to promotional events and improved inventory levels compared to last year. While average unit retail and overall traffic fell below last year’s levels, the average transaction value and units per transaction in October were up from last year, according to the company.

"J.C. Penney has made significant progress in addressing the challenges it faces, and we believe the company is on the right track to return to long-term profitable growth," said CEO Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III. "We are proud of our October sales improvement, which we achieved despite the federal government shutdown and a challenging consumer environment. Not only did we deliver positive same store sales for the first time since December of 2011, we also saw significantly improved sales trends in home and men’s apparel, as well as women’s accessories."

The company attributed its improved sales trends to the restoration of inventory levels in key private brands, including St. John’s Bay, Stafford, and jcp Home. The company also said it saw significant sales increases in brands such as Levi’s, Nike, Carter’s, Dockers, Alfred Dunner, Vanity Fair and IZOD.

The best performing division in October was the home department, according to the company, thanks to a remerchandising effort. The company said it reconfigured the department to better reflect how customers shop while highlighting its most compelling brands and price points.

Other areas of progress highlight in a press release distributed in advance of the company’s release of third quarter results on November 20 included the growth of online and expansion of Sephora departments. Comps at jcp.com increased 37.6% with online sales of home good up more than 50% and accounting for half of total online sales.

Regarding Sephora, 30 new Sephora departments were added to J.C. Penney stores bringing the number of department to 446 locations.

While improving sales trends are a positive sign for the company, profits will be negatively affected by clearance activity related to the overhang of bloated inventories from the first two quarters.

"As the turnaround is progressing, we are focused on restoring a compelling mix of private, exclusive and national brand merchandise that better resonates with our customer and results in fewer markdowns at the end of the selling season,” Ullman said. “As we look ahead, we are fully prepared to execute our aggressive plans for the holidays, including opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. We will soon be unveiling new marketing to better communicate the unique value and stylish merchandise assortment we offer. We expect the holiday season to be extremely competitive, and we are ready to win."

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