People Are Still Shopping At JCPenney… But Not For Clothes

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

JCPenney has been moving in on the appliance and home territory more associated with Sears or even Home Depot lately, which is helping the retailer. However, clothing sales are still JCP’s core business, and that’s proving to be a problem as shoppers simply don’t seem interesting in buying their clothes from Penney’s.

As Bloomberg reports, apparel sales at JCPenney are sinking even beyond where they already were. Every single clothing category at the retailer fell in the most recent quarter, even more than the overall 3.5% sales drop the chain reported.

Penney’s isn’t alone, Bloomberg notes; sales overall and apparel sales in particular are also down at Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Nordstrom. And that’s not even getting into Sears, which is its own special kind of collapsing problem these days.

JCPenney CEO Marvin Ellison said he has “no great optimism” that his store can swing apparel sales back to where investors might like them to be. The company did see some success with activewear and dresses, so those will start to make up a bigger part of the clothes on offer. But otherwise, the outlook on fashion at JCP is grim.

Things have been in flux lately, as JCPenney struggles to maintain relevance in an increasingly digital 21st century. Appliances and home services — once more closely associated with flailing competitor Sears — are both performing well for JCP, and the company recently announced an expanded partnership with Sephora to bring more foot traffic into its stores.

But clothing — and the fact that nobody wants theirs — matters a lot. Bloomberg reports that women’s apparel is JCPenney’s largest category, accounting for a full 24% of sales in 2016 by itself. That doesn’t even account for mens’ or kids’ clothes, which are also facing declining sales.

“It is critical for us to improve the performance of the apparel segment,” said Ellison. “And although our overall apparel business struggled in the first quarter, we were encouraged by the strong customer response to our now-trending items in women’s.”

One analyst, however, described JCPenney’s women’s fashion line to Bloomberg as “in desperate need of attention.” And it seems fashion-forward shoppers would agree.