J.C. Penney Mixes Tradition, Tech in Retail Resurgence

The Plano-based retailer went back to its roots to rebuild its customer base, but online options help it grow.


Appliances, wood floors, salons, and French makeup counters have fueled a turnaround at J.C. Penney, according to Mike Amend, executive vice president of Omnichannel at the Plano-based retailer.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride in recent years, but these changes plus rapid growth in cyberspace have the company prepared for the future, Amend said during his keynote talk at Retail’s Digital Summit in downtown Dallas, this week.

“We have long been wed to our traditional practices,” he said. “It takes courage and foresight. We’re also focusing on what matters to customers most. We’re doubling down here and getting back to our roots. “

“It takes courage and foresight. We’re also focusing on what matters to customers most.”
Mike Amend

Amend started his career as a software engineer and brought his outside-the-box thinking to J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP), a century-old company that had fallen on hard times in recent years.

The company has launched an app, has a mobile website, and a traditional .com website.

Amend admits that conversion rates on mobile are not as high as they are on the laptop or tablet.

A big reason for that is the checkout process, a problem most retailers share, he said.

“Speeding up checkout on mobile is key,” Amend said.

Many retailers fall into the trap that the brick and mortar stores must compete with their own e-commerce websites for sales. Amend explained that J.C. Penney spreads online sales around across the stores so it’s not a competition.

“Speeding up checkout on mobile is key” 
Mike Amend

Orders can be purchased online and shipped to a store or customers can have them delivered to a store.

J.C. Penney has physically changed the stores, too, with a zero-inventory appliance showroom, an Empire Flooring section, and Sephora, the high-end makeup store within a store. A SWAT team has spent the last eight weeks building 400 new showrooms, trained thousands of employees, and re-merchandised floor sets.

The appliance showroom alone generated 10 times the sales per square foot than the merchandise that used to be sold there, Amend said.

The company has 400 appliances showrooms, 570 Sephoras, and 800 salons. J.C. Penney is also revitalizing its portrait studios. The goal is to combine the makeup from Sephora with the salons and portrait studios to sell experiences such as prom or senior photos, Amend said.

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