Former JCPenney CEO: Sales Have Become A Cancer

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

Just days after JCPenney handed out a very limited number of $500 coupons to lure shoppers to stores on Thanksgiving, the retailer’s former CEO made it clear that he believes that similar promotions and sales could ultimately harm department stores. 

Former JCPenney CEO Allen Questrom told CNN’s Squawk Box that department stores’ tendency to offer a sale when business goes bad is probably doing more harm than good.

“The sale has become a cancer,” he said. “When business gets tough, we add another sale, but you add run out of days and discounts.”

Questrom isn’t saying that retailers shouldn’t offer sales at all, they just shouldn’t make it the focus of business.

“Sales can not be the only driver [of business], it has to be a part of it,” he said. “I think many department stores have failed, they put too much emphasis in sales. But product, presentation, excitement in the stores, the salespeople in terms of servicing the customer” are part of the equation.

“It’s not that you can’t have sales, but you need the right fashion,” he says, noting that companies like Zara and Primark have the right balance.

Questrom’s thoughts on sales comes as many designers and retailers have cut back on coupons, adding to exclusions or limiting the number of promotions offered to customers.

These promotions often hurt department stores trying to appeal to millennials, Questrom tells Squawk Box.

“Millennials need inspiration not aspiration, they come from a different area,” he said noting that many retailers have been slow to transition from their long-time customers to younger shoppers.

One way to do this, besides shifting away from sales, would be to embrace the internet, just as many online-only stores — like Warby Parker — have adopted physical locations.

“I think stores will always be around, they’ll always be the majority of the business, but the retailers of the past have to understand how to utilize the internet,” he said.

JCPenney has had a turbulent love-hate relationship with sales in recent years. In 2012, then-CEO (and former Apple retail guru) Ron Johnson loudly declared an end to sales at JCP in favor of everyday lower prices. Within a few months, the company was already backtracking on that pledge, and after a year it gave up on the no-sales concept altogether before ending the brief Ron Johnson experiment in April 2013.

Ex JCPenney CEO Allen Questrom: Sales have ‘become a cancer’ for department stores [CNBC]