JCPenneyPut aside, for now, the heated debate over whether or not J.C. Penney's (JCP) radical "fair and square" pricing strategy, which eliminated most sales, will do irrevocable harm to the chain.

CEO Ron Johnson's other radical change -- transforming the 110-year-old department store from a sea of clothing racks into an emporium of 100 branded shops -- just might be its saving grace. At least that's what many in the analyst community seem to believe.

Whether consumers -- the critics who ultimately count the most -- will end up liking the new format and resume shopping at Penney's stores is another story.

This week, Johnson, the former head of Apple retail, offered 300 analysts a sneak peak of his new vision for the chain as the nation's first specialty department store during a tour of a prototype store in the Valley View mall in Dallas.

The centerpiece of the concept is exclusive in-store shops: They include a boutique from fast-fashion retailer Joe Fresh; an Apple-esque Levi's shop featuring a denim bar staffed with jeans experts; and an upcoming home store from domestic doyenne Martha Stewart.

Shannon Faulk, Getty Images

Johnson plans to erect 100 shops inside each Penney store by 2015.

So far, performance at the 12 shops that have been rolled out to nearly 700 stores are generating comp-store sales 20% above the rest of the store, he told analysts.

It's important to note, however, that J.C. Penney's comp-store sales have been abysmal, sinking 28% in the recent quarter ended July 28, because the move to eliminate most sales and coupon events alienated so many shoppers.

Shannon Faulk, Getty Images Revival a Reality?

But despite shopper defections and plummeting sales, retail analysts from Citi, Nomura Securities and Morningstar said Johnson's new store concept will offer shoppers a long overdue, modern department store befitting 21st century living, and ultimately revive the now-struggling chain -- just not for awhile.

Beyond the shops, analysts were also upbeat on the "Street" concept: aisles that have been widened by five feet to spotlight a variety of features, activities and distractions. These include islands of iPads for grown ups to play with, LEGO tables for kids to play with, as well as food, such as a Caribou coffee bar, a Paciugo Gelato shop and a Sugar Shack candy store.

"We're fired up following a sneak peek of the new JCP prototype store," said Deborah Weinswig, an analyst with Citi, in a research note. "JCP is clearly not out of ammo, as it showcased a dazzling display of technology, outgunning the competition. We believe that the new JCP will offer a shopping experience unlike any other in apparel retailing."

The addition of high-profile shops such as the one from Levi's and international brands like Canada's Joe Fresh is wooing more brands to the store, a potential win for shoppers, she said. "Since Levi's rolled out, Haggar, Docker's and Disney have signed on!"

JCPenney

"Overall, we liked what we saw presented in the 17 shop-in-shops of the mock-up/prototype store," Echoed Paul Lejuez, an analyst with Nomura Equity Research. "We want to believe this can work, and longer term, we think it will."

The food/beverage offerings alone sets J.C. Penney apart from other department stores "and the retail landscape in general," he said. What's more, "visually, the shops look great."

Penney's does has some kinks to work out.

For one, "We are not sure how comfortable customers will be using the self checkout" kiosks, which don't accept credit cards. Instead, shoppers have to set up a store account and have it pre-linked to a credit card, which could be "a slight deterrent," he said.

JCP

Paul Swinand, an analyst with Morningstar, was also "bullish" on the makeover, saying it should bring in what Penney sorely needs: A fresh infusion of younger, cooler shoppers.

"We believe the shop-in-store concept is well suited to today's mall and consumer economic environments," he said, in a research note, adding that Penney's makeover is poised to payoff in the long run.

But it will be a slog.

Given that comp-store sales fell 20% in the most recent quarter, a 20% sales gain for the shops in the third quarter "is actually a deceleration," Swinand said, in the research note.

To that end, the retailer is looking to draw younger consumers who might consider Penney a dated, dowdy brand.

Although older, Middle American shoppers have long been the chain's bread and butter, Penney's makeover doesn't really target them. Johnson himself said the redesigned stores don't target "old ladies," Swinand noted.



Still, younger customers "currently don't have a great image of J.C. Penney in their minds, since they've only experienced the 'old' brand," Swinand said. "That's going to take time to change."

But even if Penney wins over younger shoppers with fast-fashion shops, gelato bars and iPad stations, does that also mean alienating its core, middle-of-the-road customer base? If so, where does that leave the chain?

Stay tuned.


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Timing Your Spending

How to pay less by changing when you purchase.

View Course »

Building Credit from Scratch

Start building credit...now.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

521 Comments

Filter by:
rankincap

JCP is not selling Apple products. They sell the same items that many department stores and discount stores sell. Nothing different. Used to shop the but they do not give me a reason to shop there any more. They will not get their sales back under their new business model. They have lost their way and customers.

January 25 2013 at 1:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GERANNIE

Penney's use to have a wonderful home store. They had great drapes and rugs. A great selection. I bought everything for my home there. There bedding was wonderful. Now the selection for drapes and rugs. are small and not of good quality. What are they doing to this store, If I want the Gap or Old Navey I will go there. Give me back the Old Penny's and the cataloge. The web sit stinks. Why don't they get rid of this new guy who ever he is. Bring back Penney's the home store.

January 25 2013 at 1:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
derrick

Seems most of you havent even read the article, it says in the 12 stores that have the 100 mini shops, sales are up by 20%.

THE PLAN WORKED.

November 12 2012 at 4:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
derrick

I have only been in the store twice, once before the change and once after. I like it.

it is just a more defined look on what you already see in a department store. There is usually one isle dividing departments or a wall corner, now you have an actual wall. (simplified)

it appeals to simple senses.

November 12 2012 at 3:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
twosteppinboop

PEOPLE WILL NOT SHOP WHEN THEY HAVE TO CHECK THEMSELVES OUT, I WONT EVEN USE THEM IN
THE GROCERY STORE.RUINED A 110 YEAR OLD CO. I HD 25YRS THERE GOT OUT THIS YEAR .THE THINGS THEY ARE DOING TO ASSOCIATES IS ON REAL.CASH PENNEY IS SURE TURNING OVER IN
HIS BED THANKS .

October 20 2012 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
squidfam

Will they still have online shopping? Will you still use your JC Penny card as a link? I don't know if I like the idea of my card being on file at a kiosk. Self serve every where - I hope they have competent sales people.
I don't think this type of store represents any age of people. Young people will hate it, old people will hate it and the middle just don't shop here.

September 25 2012 at 3:38 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Jim

Goes to show what analysts really know.

September 25 2012 at 9:48 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
kaysings

I have news for Mr. CEO Johnson: your coveted young, cool customer doesn't go to a dept store to mess with an ipad or buy clothes. He/she does his/her social networking at home on his/her own ipad and shops for clothes online. The Internet has killed the bricks-and-mortar bookstore, the record industry, and now it's killing malls, and JCP will not escape. It will meet the same fate as Sears.

September 25 2012 at 9:39 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kaysings's comment
derrick

be a 20 year old college student, I would have to disagree with you there. ALL of my friends by the majority(if not all) of their clothing in store.

the internet isnt what killed brick and mortar book stores, comparative shopping did that (technically that is the internet). Borders cant charge you 30 bucks for a book that Barnes & Nobles is selling for 15.

Music stores died because they tried to pander to all groups in geographically undesirable places. I you open a music store in a small town in the deep south, the hip hop section should not take up 1/3rd of your store.

by the way, Sears still has 17 billion in sales a year. which is up not down.

November 12 2012 at 3:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dstam33157

I went to a JCPenney last week........it was worse than an outlet store!!!! I wont ever step foot back in there, no matter how many 'little shops" they create in it. They are focused on the 21 crowd ---give or take 5 yrs! I guess they know you spends the money they don't have!

September 25 2012 at 9:15 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
dstam33157

I went to a JCPenney last week........it was worse than an outlet store!!!! I wont ever step foot back in there, no matter how many 'little shops" they create in it. They are focused on the 21 crowd ---give or take 5 yrs! I guess they know you spends the money they don't have!

September 25 2012 at 9:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply