Can JCP leverage its Sephora success?

It’s probably note the first time (on RetailWire or elsewhere) that I’ve talked about Sephora at JCP. It’s clearly a win and continues to be rolled out or expanded in more and more locations. So how does Penney use it to attract new shoppers and convert them to JCP loyalists? Here are some recent thoughts:

When Mike Ullman (formerly of LVMH) partnered with Sephora (owned by LVMH), he realized that JCP needed a critical mass of cosmetics even though the legacy department store brands like Clinique, Estee Lauder and Lancome wouldn’t sell Penney. (Lancome is now part of the Sephora assortment.) At the same time, Sephora was growing as a mall-based alternative to the anchor stores’ beauty departments with a unique approach to open-sell layout and fresh assortments. It’s turned out to be a win for both companies, especially as those traditional department store anchors lose share and traffic.

Certainly omnichannel is another opportunity for JCPenney, as Amazon continues its inroads into the beauty business. But perhaps the biggest unmet opportunity for JCP is to convince the (younger) Sephora customer in the store to buy more apparel, shoes and accessories on her visits to the beauty department.

And to add some recent comments posted after a store visit, there is visible sign of improvement in JCP’s assortments:

I’ve been critical for several years of JCP’s women’s assortments — too many brands, too many styles, too much overlap between brands. But credit where due: I shopped a Penney store in the past couple of weeks on behalf of a consulting client, and I saw a marked improvement in key item focus and brand clarity. Shoes were merchandised in a more effective way, and fashion jewelry looked improved too (although not yet handbags).

Penney promoted its men’s GMM last year to the head merchant position, and if what I saw is any indication, he’s got things heading in the right direction. It’s a small sample size but perhaps a leading indicator. JCP isn’t going to solve its sales problems until it figures out how to drive its apparel business, no matter how well it’s doing with Sephora or even major appliances.

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