Unless you’ve been living under a rocky, you know that retail – especially big box department store retail – is hurting in the modern American economy. Iconic brands like Sears are closing stores and others, like Radioshack and HHgregg, are closing up shop altogether. In this difficult environment, certain brands seem to be limping along, doing all they can to get customers in their stores.
If you were to look at one department store brand that would seem to be unprepared for the massive – and somewhat surprising – mall shopping downturn, it would have been JCPenney. The department store tried a new style of advertising and merchandising a few years back and that sent sales plummeting almost immediately.
After a change in leadership, Penney’s started coming back. Then, the sky started falling on retail. No one was immune. But JCPenney didn’t have the seemingly bedrock benefits that other brands did. Sears was home to Craftsman and Kenmore, two longstanding definitions of quality in American consumer culture. Still, JCPenney made a few interesting moves. They brought back appliance sales, competing head to head with Best Buy and Sears and the two major home improvement stores.
Now Penney’s is betting big on another classic retail factor: nostalgia. JCPenney announced last week its plans to open classic toy shops inside their retail locations. That’s right, old fashioned toy departments inside JCPenney. The idea was born in the fond memories of the company’s classic “early Christmas catalog,” something generations of kids grew up leafing through in the weeks leading up to the holiday season.
The idea was beta tested last Christmas, and, according to company leadership, the result was “extremely pleasing.” Speaking to CNN, JCPenney Chief Merchant, John Tighe, said:
“We know that shoppers buy toys year-round and by creating a fun, inviting toy shop, with some of the biggest brands and hottest products, we will entice families to shop and spend more at JCPenney…”
It’s an interesting and creative tactic, using nostalgia to stop the bleeding. Because, like its competitors, JCPenney hasn’t been immune to the lagging market. Earlier this year, the company announced it would be closing 138 stores, leaving fewer than 1,000 brick and mortar storefronts active.
It will be interesting to see if this idea brings customers back into the store. Nostalgia is one feeling online sales doesn’t exactly deliver. If JCPenney succeeds, you can bet you will see other department stores borrowing this idea.