JCPenney Switching To Priceless Catalogs

When JCPenney killed off its traditional Big Book catalog last year, the result was a drop in sales on its website, says the retailer’s chairman. Based on that successful strategy–wait, what?–JCPenney says it’s killing off its remaining 12 specialty catalogs as well. Instead, it will start mailing out thinner “look books,” which will contain a subset of merchandise and no prices.

The company told the Dallas Morning News that printing prices in catalogs has made it difficult to compete against other retailers in pricing, so the look books will serve more as an overview of the type of merchandise available in an attempt to drive shoppers to the website or department store.

Penney has been sending out look books since last year, and the response has been good, sending consumers to the Internet or the store, Ullman said.

“We’re not getting out of the print business. … We’re transitioning from the catalog, which is essentially a static vehicle.”

“We’re a promotional department store, one of the top 20 advertisers in the United States.”

“J.C. Penney to quit catalogs but will keep sending ‘look books’ that refer shoppers to stores, website” [Dallas Morning News]


Edit Your Comment

  1. eccsame says:

    Great news! As a youngster I always found the prices in the underwear layouts to be distracting.

  2. ThinkerTDM says:

    Who approved that idea? Watching these companies flail around for business is like watching retards humping a doorknob.

    It’s easy- offer something that people value, and exchange it for their money. Don’t need gimmicks, flashing lights or thingamabobs.

  3. Tim says:


    “People don’t like our prices, so we aren’t going to reveal them anymore.”

    • DanRydell says:

      No, he means that the price that is printed on the page can’t be changed after it’s printed. They can sell the item for cheaper, but the older price will still be printed on the page.

    • CoachTabe says:

      I suspect the real reason is that they want to use regional pricing and don’t want to have to print completely different catalogs for each region.

  4. ElizabethD says:

    Oh, yeah, that’ll work. /sarcasm

    It’s like yard sales where people don’t bother putting price stickers on stuff. I just walk away. It’s a waste of my time to have to track someone down and ask the price of every single thing that *might* possibly interest me.

    • perkonkrusts says:

      I agree. I think when the four horsemen of the Apocalypse visit us, catalogs and yard sales without prices will be the weapons of three of them, bewilderment, frustration, and despair. Terror will still be represented by flames of death shooting from giant skeletons riding crazed stallions.

  5. HogwartsProfessor says:

    This is really dumb. When I worked in print advertising the first thing they taught us was PUT THE PRICE IN THE AD. If people can’t see it, they’ll assume they can’t afford it.

    • whatdoyoucare says:

      That is exactly what I would assume

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      This is what irks me about interior decorating firms and companies. They do this to give off an air of exclusivity when there’s just about no chance I’ll do business with a company that doesn’t put its prices online. My time is valuable – why should I chase down your sales people when you are the one who is supposed to provide the goods and service?

      • RxDude says:

        DIng! If a website doesn’t list a price for something I’m interested in, I’ll look somewhere else. If I wanted to be on the phone or browsing “showrooms”, I wouldn’t be shopping online.

    • wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

      +1. Call me a simpleton, but I like to know how much something is when I oogle it. If there isn’t a price, I figure it isn’t for my middle-class ass.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      To be fair, I don’t think leaving the prices off the catalogs will convince anyone that JCPenney is trying to be high class.

    • ellemdee says:

      Agreed about always putting the price in the ad. If I don’t see a price, I either assume it’s overpriced or at least don’t want to spend the time to have to look up every since item I like to see if the price is good or not. It’s not good business to make customers spend time and effort just to get pricing info on your products. If they have to research every coat/curtain/pillow, etc. they like instead of being able to just glance at the page, they’ll just look elsewhere. They should want to make it as easy as possible for customers to make purchases, and this just creates more work for the customer, who will just get frustrated and look elsewhere.

  6. Marlin says:

    So this is where the former executives from circuit city are working now.

  7. Pinkbox says:

    I’m not a fan of prices being left out of catalogs or websites – especially for restaurants. I like to research new restaurants before going, and I’ve picked many over another if they had their prices listed online.

    • AllanG54 says:

      They’re not saying the prices won’t be online, just in the catalogs they’re sending out. Since there are ongoing sales at the stores, this might even save them the problem of correcting prices in their data base when things are ordered online. I can see this increasing traffic to their website as well because you’d go there to check the prices and might look at and buy other items you didn’t plan on in the first place.

  8. Dallas_shopper says:

    Their website sucks; I hope they revamp it as a replacement for their catalog. They probably won’t though.

  9. Mob_Mentality says:

    Wait. Why the hell are they even printing catalogs anyway? At any rate, this is moronic at best.

    • bravohotel01 says:

      Some catalogs are better than their respective websites.

      Sears, for example. Catalog: teh cool; web: teh sux

  10. balthisar says:

    I can see this working. What was their ROI on their catalogue sales anyway?

    When I was a kid (pre-Internet) I used to love paging through the Sears and Penny’s catalogues, especially the Sears Christmas Wishbook. But the internet has supplanted the need for most catalogues, or rather, the websites have become the catalogues.

    The problem is, internet websites are a pain to just browse through. There’s so much merchandise that most people aren’t just going to browse through all of the categories just for the hell of it; they’re going to go directly to a category for a product type they know they already want, or just do a search. Catalogues (and wandering the aisles) expose people to a lot more information about what’s available than a targeted search, and people really do like to browse, except on websites. Additionally there are still a lot of people (like myself) that prefer printed matter for certain things, like browsing catalogues.

    Part of the reason that web sites have supplanted paper catalogues is the speed of the internet. Stock can change rapidly. Prices can adjust rapidly. If you publish a once semi-annually catalogue, you’re making a commitment that makes no sense in this day and age. If you publish that catalogue without prices, though, you can adjust the price as the situation merits, and yes, for those cynics amongst you, even adjust the price upward if necessary. The catalogue in effect becomes a brochure.

    • parliboy says:


      A place like J.C. Penney has a sale of some sort pretty much every day. Many of the prices in their catalog often have no foothold in reality, and in fact can sometimes be a detriment to purchases.

      I know that some might suggest that the solution is simply to choose a regular, everyday low price and stick with it, but that doesn’t give them the flexibility they need to survive.

      I like to pile on to monolithic plodding retailers as much as the next guy, but ultimately this is a smart move.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I disagreed with everything, and I think it’s because of the age difference. As soon as you said “pre-internet” I had to stop to remember what period of time that might have been.

      I like paging through catalogs, but buying anything through a catalog just seems insane.

      I disagree that websites are hard to browse through – they’re really not, IMO. I can browse for hours on a website. I prefer it because I can also get user reviews, multiple views, and availability.

      Why should I go through 16 pages of duvet covers when I actually want a queen size, purple, and under $60? It’s the same thing you do when you get a catalog – people who don’t have kids probably aren’t very interested in the childs clothing section. People don’t flip through every page for the heck of it; they go to the categories they want to look through. I don’t know if you quite understand that people don’t want to see what’s available – I don’t have kids; why would I care about kids clothing? Going to a store to wander the aisles is a waste of time.

      • quail says:

        Agreed. The online purchase experience is quicker and has supplanted the phone order or ordering by mail. But some rural areas still have dial-up. In that case I’d be all over that 800 number with paper catalog in hand. (Don’t miss dial-up, but I do miss the insane competition there used to be among ISPs.)

    • lettucefactory says:

      I’m with you – and hey, they’re trying. They know things have changed since The Dawn of Time, or whenever they first started publishing catalogs, and they’re trying to roll with it. The post says that website sales dropped after they discontinued their big catalog; it’s not unreasonable to think, “hey, customers get some kind of value from the catalog experience.” Given that, how do they make catalog and internet flow together?

      I’m not exactly sure. There’s a reason I don’t run a retail company. But, one thing that *won’t* make internet and catalog flow together well is to put static prices in the catalog that have no relationship to what is on the website.

  11. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Maybe women are different (they probably are) but as a man I choose clothing largely on price. I only buy when the price is right (and I believe there will be some quality). So when you don’t put the price on your catalog, I automatically assume it’s going to be too expensive. After all, traditionally only the higher end catalogs don’t show price. When I look at clothing in a catalog, I specifically look for the price and decide if that’s worth getting interested in the item.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I buy based on fit and then price. Something that is cheaper is useless if it’s low quality and doesn’t fit properly. I’ll pay more for a higher quality piece of clothing that fits well. I do have a limit, though. I found a great pair of pants in a sale rack but had to put them back when I looked at the tag and saw they were $78. Too much, even though they fit very well.

  12. captadam says:

    I went to JCPenney a year or so ago looking for window treatments, and I walked out with a few catalogs. A wave of emotions hit me when I looked at that: a bit of nostalgia as I remembered the catalogs from my childhood; a bit of surprise that JCPenney offered as much merchandise as they did; and then the feeling that took hold, sadness, as I realized that the company was trying to keep going with the dead-dead-dead practice of catalog retailing.

  13. Bernardo says:

    I actully like the paper catalogs more than the websites these places have. And the prices next to everything is perfect. My biggest problem is they never mail me the damned catalogs even though I request them.

  14. H3ion says:

    At least no one can complain that the in-store price didn’t match the catalog price.

  15. quail says:

    In defense of catalogs: There’s a serendipity aspect to a catalog. You can stumble onto something by randomly flipping the pages that you’d never have found by doing an online search or by being bombarded by targeted advertising. (You don’t know what you don’t know.)

    It’s one of the reasons I doubt the brick & mortar book store will completely disappear. Yes, Amazon and their ilk are fabulous. But sometimes you don’t know what’s out there until you peruse every aisle. (I horribly miss the discount book seller days of the late 80s with The Book Stop & Book Star, warehouse sized stores filled with everything imaginable.)

    • redskull says:

      I agree with this– the internet is great and all, but with a catalog I’ll see things I wouldn’t have thought to look for.

      As for not having prices– whenever a store doesn’t make the prices readily available, I walk right out. It’s too big of a hassle to ask the price of every single item you see.

  16. MFfan310 says:

    I do shop at JCPenney, and I like their merchandise, especially in casual shirts and pants. For the (constantly-on-sale) price, it’s very good. And they stock Levi’s in my size that the other stores don’t carry. And I think phasing out catalogs is a smart move in the Internet-enabled age (heck, JCPenney has an iPhone app).

    But JCPenney seemed to be going this way anyway. Their minor logo tweak recently dropped the “catalog” part and emphasized… a sure sign that the catalog was about to go goodbye.

  17. rubicthecube says:

    J.C. Penny is still around? This is news to me.

  18. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    Man.. my grandma is going to be pissed. She can’t get out much to go shopping anymore and she doesn’t even own a computer.. so they just killed a significant revenue stream of older customers. Oops.

    And considering that it is JCPenney we’re talking about here, the older customers are probably the most important ones they have. (or the only ones they have…)

  19. Keter says:

    Fail! I’ll just assume that “if you have to ask, you can’t afford” applies here and not bother to follow up with web confirmation. And I’m sure not going to make a trip to the store to find out; my time and gas is too valuable. The REAL catalog is still needed by those of us who live many miles from the nearest store and who would prefer browse the catalog with a cup of coffee and their feet up rather than on the computer *again* after a long day on one at work.

  20. mncannon says:

    why would i want to look at a catalog with no prices? i guess i won’t be shopping at JCP anymore.

  21. NumberSix says:

    Well that’s about the dumbest thing I’ve hear all week. Price is a factor when trying to buy things. If I can’t figure out the price, I’m not even going to consider an item if it’s non-essential.

  22. ogsoleysol says:

    Translation: “We now have a JCPenney in Manhattan. We can no longer publish a national catalog that contains national pricing.”

  23. zandar says:

    They really, really don’t understand their customers, do they?

    The only people I know who still shop at Sears actually used the Big Book.

    Fucking idiots, they deserve to go bankrupt.

  24. PencilSharp says:

    As a theoretical executive in JCPenney, I would like to congratulate the Marketing Department at JCP for such forward-thinking positions!

    (uhh, Mrs. Huh-Wiggins, call my stockbroker and tell him to go short on JCP. Now. Thank you.)

    Great work, gentlemen!

    Wait, that middle part did go in my email and not the comment section, right?

  25. humbajoe says:

    Not that I shop at JC Penny, but it’s always been a long standing rule of mine that “if they don’t want to put a price on the product, they obviously don’t want me to buy it”.

    So if they won’t, I don’t.

    • mbz32190 says:

      Not a big deal to me. May piss off some old people, but that’s about it. All those catalogs end up in the trash anyway if I get them (and I don’t remember getting anything from JCPenney in years). I shop by the ways of Slickdeals and Sunday newspaper sale ads, which aren’t going anywhere.

      • colorisnteverything says:

        But old people are the main ones shopping a JCP. Both of my grandmother still catalog shop there and find the prices and quality reasonable in the stuff they like.

  26. alexmmr says:

    So, instead of an actually useful shopping tool, they’re going to send out books of advertisements? My mother shops purely through catalogs. That’s one customer gone.

  27. Max5695 says:

    JCPenney will lose the few customers that still look at catalogs. These types of customers are mostly older people who were once used to looking through catalogs.

    I remember back in the 80s when Best catalogs would mail out huge catalogs. Best had the best selection of toys. They featured full color photos of toys such as Transformers, He-Man, She-Ra, Gobots, Care Bears, G.I. Joe, Captain Power, etc. I remember looking at photos of Castle Grayskull, Battlecat(from He-Man), and wishing I could get them all. It was almost as fun as visiting a toy store.

  28. Rathina says:

    If a price is not listed…..then it must be FREE!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. dirtylurker says:

    Look, I for one was a fan of the catalogs specially the winter ones as a kid for all the toys, but look at how much they do spend on printing. The reality is that everything is going online. As we are here debating whether it is bad or good we are all “online.” And can you really say you dont know what the prices are because they arnt printed, CMON! most of us have shopped there for years and they havnt really changed.

  30. MikeM_inMD says:

    So, they’ll be printing magazines. Of ads. For only their store.

    At least it’s free to the recipient.

  31. legolex says:

    I have to say that companies that refuse to publish their prices make me go somewhere else, not call and inquire. I hate having to talk to someone about pricing because usually if it’s not published that means it’s too expensive.

    The company I work for practices this and they say it’s so the competition can’t undercut us and that it will make the customer call therefore having more opportunity for business.

  32. IGNORE says:

    Any catalog or ad I receive that has no prices goes directly to file 13.

    Don’t they think that the price is important?