If you’re not living under a rock, you probably realize American department stores are having trouble. Across the board, most big names are seeing sales drop and customers find other places to buy what they want. But some are hurting worse than others. After first quarter sales numbers dropped much more than expected, JCPenney is scrambling to avoid a worse Q2.
The double-digit loss was a shocker even for a business model suffering industry-wide difficulties. After a disastrous marketing shift in the 2000s, JC Penney rebounded with a new CEO and a back to what works approach. That helped stop the bleeding and actually put Penney’s back near the top of the department store universe.
But the news wouldn’t be good forever. Consumer trends being what they are, all department stores are looking for ways to change their game and stay competitive. Sears is closing stores and cutting its losses with a failing K-Mart brand. Macy’s is struggling to hold its own while playing the sales game with its higher-end clientele. Nordstrom and Kohl’s are both trying to find a way to deal with falling sales.
Penney’s is opting for diversification. Apparel will still be a focus, but less of one. Meanwhile, the retailer plans to expand service offerings and offer new products such as appliances. The company has already begun a big TV and radio campaign touting its appliance sales division.
These days, about the only clear advantage brick and mortar stores have for online sales is in service. They have to do better and try harder to make shopping fun and rewarding for customers who make the effort to come into the store when they can shop from their couch. That and stocking stuff people don’t buy online. Refrigerators and stoves, for example.
This move to add appliances in about half their stores gives customers a new reason to come to Penney’s, but it also opens Penney’s up to competition from other brands, such as home improvement stores Home Depot and Lowes. It’s a model Sears tried for years – and failed at. That doesn’t mean JCPenney will follow that line to that end … but they’re facing two challenges: bringing in customers, and “teaching” them to think “Penney’s” when they think about buying their next washer and dryer.