Penney needs to fix its women’s apparel business

For all of the good news coming from JCPenney lately, there is still a growing recognition that its women’s apparel business needs a fix. Here’s my recent comment from a RetailWire panel discussion:

John Tighe’s promotion to lead merchant reflects the new CEO’s recognition of (and dissatisfaction with) the JCP apparel problem. Penney has had an historically underdeveloped women’s apparel business (and strength in men’s), long predating the Ron Johnson era. But it’s a tricky equation — the attempts to appeal to a Millennial consumer by walking away from key brands like St. John’s Bay were catastrophic and wisely corrected by Mike Ullman.

JCP is heavily dependent on private and exclusive brands in its women’s area, so the first think I would focus on is the “clarity of offer” between brands. Does ANA have a brand identity clearly different from Stylus, or St. John’s Bay, or Worthington, or Liz Claiborne? (The list goes on…) And within each brand, is there a focused assortment of items?

JCP isn’t the only department store guilty of an overwhelming assortment of brands, colors, prints and styles. But it needs to address this issue (and to continue expanding categories like athleisure) in order to offer clearer choices to its core customer. Then comes the harder work of product development meant to appeal to the same customers buying Sephora at JCP today.

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