J.C. Penney goes after Babies ‘R’ Us customers with new shops

Discussion
Photo: JCPenney
Aug 13, 2018
George Anderson

If you want to buy baby clothes in J.C. Penney stores, it’s no problem, but to buy a car seat, crib, stroller or a variety of other baby products from the department store retailer, you’ve needed to go online and place your order on jcpenney.com. Soon, however, you will be able to go to one of 500 Penney stores and pick up all the above.

Last week, Penney announced that it is expanding its merchandise selection of baby products in shops within 500 of its stores that are located close to where Babies “R” Us used to operate before going out of business. The retailer operates 860 stores total across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

“We are seizing this opportunity to pursue available market share and aggressively go after the baby customer with these new shops,” said James Starke, senior vice president and head of merchandising for Penney, in a statement.

The new shops are scheduled to launch later this month to coincide with Penney’s annual “Baby Sale.” The retailer plans to promote its new, expanded baby product selection with a 12-page direct mail piece.

J.C. Penney goes after Babies ‘R’ Us customers with new shops
Photo: JCPenney

“J.C. Penney appreciates the importance of having a broad assortment of baby products online, but we also know that there are certain items that parents — especially first-time parents — want to see in person. They want to test out the stroller, feel the crib sheets and compare bottle sizes in person,” said Mr. Starke. “Our competition is underestimating the importance of a physical in-store baby shop and that is where J.C. Penney is going to differentiate.”

Penney’s baby shops will be located next to baby apparel and feature updated graphics and signage. Most of the products on display will be stocked for customers to bring home the same day, while in some locations, some larger pieces, such as cribs and mattresses, may have to be shipped to customers’ homes. Items such as dressers, changing tables and gliders will continue to be available through Penney’s website.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you make of James Starke’s assertion that competitors are “underestimating the importance of a physical in-store baby shop”? Does this move make sense relative to recently expressed misgivings from management that Penney’s has taken its eye off its core market, i.e. Boomers? Will having in-store baby shops  boost traffic, sales and market share for J.C. Penney?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"A deeper dive into the 'baby business' is frankly a better strategic fit for J.C. Penney than its expansion into major appliances."
"First appliances, now baby shops, what’s next — a RadioShack and Toys “R” Us section?"
"Who’s our customer this week? Boomers? Nope, Millennials. Now it’s Boomers again. Wait! Millennial moms."

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26 Comments on "J.C. Penney goes after Babies ‘R’ Us customers with new shops"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I like J.C. Penney playing offense in this category and overall, I think it’s a good move. Starke’s point about the importance of in-store experience for the baby category is valid, but it won’t prevent online-only competitors from entering the category.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

There is undoubtedly an opportunity here but, just as was the case with appliances, J.C. Penney’s move seems very opportunistic and not nearly strategic enough. It’s all well and good offering a range, but how does J.C. Penney intend to get target consumers into its stores and onto its website? And is this even the target market for J.C. Penney? It’s hard to keep up given that the company keeps changing its focus every five minutes!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Exactly. Their original customer has aged out and ever since, under three different management team, the new target has changed, along with the message. Well said.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

You shouldn’t be able to age out of a department store!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Exactly, Neil! You can’t expect to attract new and different customers using the same old marketing.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

This strategy is a smart move for J. C. Penney. They have the space to set up great in-store physical departments, and it’s okay to bring back more of the traditional department store concept, that being many departments and categories under one roof. It also ties into their strategy of going after the older female shopper. Parents who are becoming grandparents are known for spending big on their future grandchild. So this all makes sense. What it will come down to is how well J. C. Penney merchandises their baby shop department, staffs their department with knowledgeable associates and how competitive their pricing will be. If they do all three well they will be very successful.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

I think this is a great idea. Baby items are a whole new world, especially to new parents where reviews alone are not going to be enough. To me, the question is, will J.C. Penney staff the section with people who can show new parents how to use the car seat/stroller/rolling cart? Or will they leave parents to fumble through awkward controls they aren’t used to using — or leave them searching for the magic button that collapses the beastly thing into something that somehow fits into your pocket?

There are definitely opportunities opened up by Toys “R” Us’s exit from the market — if electronics can make it with at least one brick-and-mortar player, then toys and baby stuff should be able to make it too. Good on J.C. Penney for recognizing the opportunity — hopefully they put everything in place they need in order to ensure the move’s success.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

I am not sure what is meant by the statement. Certainly Target, Walmart, Carter’s and other retailers focus on in-store baby supplemented with a digital experience. Making such a large investment in the category may be underestimating the importance of the online experience. Especially when it comes to hard goods like car seats, cribs and the like. These are review-driven purchases and readily available conveniently online. Diapers.com proved that model many years ago.

It appears J.C. Penney is trying to seek some relevance for the brand. I think they need to understand who they are and who their customer is today. I don’t see this driving strong traffic to the stores.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Take a look at the younger consumers. There is a huge part of the population that is just now starting a family. J.C. Penney has researched and knows who their customers are – and who they will be. It makes sense for them to offer a fuller line of baby products. This doesn’t mean they are abandoning their “Boomer” customers. They are just talking a look at who their future customer is going to be.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Is this more of the “bold plan” by former CEO Ellison to keep bolting on products from retailers who either are struggling or went out of business?

First appliances, now baby shops, what’s next — a RadioShack and Toys “R” Us section?

These announcements do little to make a cohesive statement that J.C. Penney has their act together. The baby clothes segment is expected to grow annually by 0.9 percent. With Millennial moms buying on private Facebook groups and franchises like Kid to Kid popping up it seems like another shoot-then-aim strategy coming from J.C. Penney.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

While I don’t agree with Mr. Starke’s assessment about the competition (has he been to a Target store recently?), I do agree that it’s a smart move by J.C. Penney. A deeper dive into the “baby business” is frankly a better strategic fit for J.C. Penney than its expansion into major appliances — better margins, more frequency of store visits and a way to target the younger consumer who might not be attracted to the apparel assortment.

My biggest question: Where is the space coming from, given the square footage already reallocated to appliances and a bigger furniture department?

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Lifestyle categories simply resonate with consumers and with the baby segment wide open, now that Babies “R” Us has left a gap, it’s a very wise move for James Starke and the J.C. Penney team to capitalize on this opportunity.

Having gone through the baby stage, and now that we are well in the young kid stage, our family enjoyed and still appreciates the in-store shopping experience for toys, clothing and other essential items. There are multi-sensory experiences with these products that you are unable to achieve by shopping in the digital channels. You might ultimately buy it online, but trying out the products is a key element.

J.C. Penney has had their challenges in identifying who their target segmentation is. However, only focusing on one segment, the Baby Boomers, the company will be missing out on some significant opportunities. Department stores that have survived and thrived attract multiple shopping targets, and with these baby shops J.C. Penney is taking a step in the right direction.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

The baby business does sound like a reasonable fit for J.C. Penney but it all goes back to getting the right customers into the store. Are younger consumers part of their demographic? This idea has some legs though. First-time parents will want to touch and feel these new-to-them gadgets and J.C. Penney stores are conveniently located. And that’s my 2 cents.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

The shopper for in-store purchasing isn’t going away due to online product availability. As long as the price is right on those most easy to compare one-time buy items (strollers) this could be a good approach.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Here we go again J.C. Penney. It is good to do something, even if it is wrong, if you learn a lesson. For J.C. Penney to enter this baby shop arena, they better be good. Showing items hanging on wire grid fixtures will make the kind of customers they are looking for walk. The grandparent purchasers do spend a lot on their grandchildren. We observed working in a wonderful children’s store this past month that everything was touched, felt and commented on. And price was not an issue! This store was a boutique, exactly what these buyers were looking for.

The old department store look is out, unique merchandise presentations with wonderful items is in. Take a shortcut J.C. Penney, and it’s over.

Lauren Goldberg
BrainTrust
Buying baby gear (car seats, strollers, etc) is definitely an in-store experience, especially for first-time parents. To do this right, it’s almost more of a service model. For this to work for J.C. Penney, they need to invest in the experience by having knowledgeable staff, a great supply chain process, installation services and a user-friendly registry system. Just adding merchandise, putting up nice graphics and sending out a catalog won’t translate into long-term success. Babies “R” Us didn’t even have the services that new parents are looking for. When I was preparing for my first child more than five years ago, Buy Buy Baby was far superior. We were able to register with an in-store consultant, the sales person for strollers and car seats was extremely knowledgeable and the registry was very user friendly. We were even able to pick out our furniture and BBB held it for us until we wanted it delivered, you just had to give them a few days notice. I think it could work for J.C. Penney, but they need… Read more »
Jeff Sward
Guest

I think this makes absolute sense. I have said many times that Primark holds many lessons for J.C. Penney — lessons not learned at J.C. Penney’s peril. Primark has outstanding baby and kids assortments at great value — amazing value. And there is plenty of wasted space in men’s and women’s apparel at J.C. Penney. It would not be difficult to edit out 15 percent of the very mundane and I am guessing unproductive inventory. Yep, easy speech and very difficult execution, but we are talking re-invention here. If J.C. Penney doesn’t take action they are leaving the door wide open for Primark.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
J.C. Penney already has a nice infants and toddler apparel department, the clothing is competitively priced and it’s cute. The addition of a Babies “R” Us type selection is smart. And I have no doubt that the buyers and merchandisers at J.C. Penney will put together a strong assortment of what Millennial moms (and now Gen Z moms) want. I can imagine what it must be like to work in J.C. Penney’s corporate offices right now, because I have been there with another company. Who’s our customer this week? Boomers? Nope, Millennials. Now it’s Boomers again. Wait! Millennial moms. All of that change isn’t just dizzying to the customer, it drives the staff crazy, too. Adding new departments to J.C. Penney’s stores isn’t the problem. The problem is marketing properly — and through the right channels — to get to the customers they want to attract. Millennial moms loved the Babies “R” Us 20 percent off coupons — and still love those offered weekly by Buy Buy Baby — so J.C. Penney’s coupon strategy is… Read more »
Brian Kelly
Guest
1 month 8 days ago
JCP has announced a shift in target audience to “moms.” That is smart, albeit a big “duh.” “Moms” is a life stage, THE major shopping life stage as it encompasses family and home formation. Perfect for a “department” store. (Millennials/GenX/Boomers are not relevantly descriptive.) Ellison didn’t have a clue. (Good luck at Lowe’s, replicating THD, that won’t end well either.) This is exactly whom JCP should target as it is primarily: mall based (place) and multi category (product). Target moved on this a few years ago, so strategic overlap and therefore competitive situation is hot. New moms prefer to shop in person when sorting out sizing. Once that is understood, she can replenish in more convenient channels (online/phone). Of course, with Mom’s many shopping modes, in store is always an opportunity. JCP needs to go to school on its primary competitors to ensure both assortment and in-store experience exceeds her expectations. Establishing outlet loyalty can provide a halo that might extend to other categories. But all categories must align to this target definition to avoid… Read more »
gordon arnold
Guest

Toys “R” Us and affiliates are gone. This may be attributed to severe lack of successful sales promotion and results. A large portion of lost sales were stolen from them by e-commerce. Lower prices, anywhere delivery and easy return policies made the Toys “R” Us locations see touch and feel facilities and urgent last minute need purchase centers. Placing this expansion in 500 locations that are near closed failures will only serve to accelerate the losses now sought after by J.C. Penney. The only good news for consumers is that there is now another well stocked see touch and feel facility than can be used for the rare urgent buy needs that is seeing the effects of online gift cards.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

This could be a good move for Penney’s, if they intend to put the necessary time and money in to making it the in-store experience it has to be, to be successful. Next point: how do they intend to get this group of younger shoppers in the store? It has to be through social media, or forget it.

Jasmine Glasheen
Staff

These days, it’s companies that specialize in a specific niche that win the retailing race. If J.C. Penney was building baby-only stores and working to establish themselves as category leaders through social media marketing, it’d be one thing; but as is, tossing a baby section into already severely unfocused, passé department stores is only going to exacerbate their problem.

Jeff Sward
Guest

Precisely. Nothing unfocused or passe about Primark assortments.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

As with appliances, it’s easy to say this is a good move tactically for JCPenney, but is it a good strategic move? Like many department stores, JCPenney is searching for relevance in trying to settle on a core customer. As Georgeanne Bender said, you shouldn’t age out of a department store — the point is to appeal to all ages in some way, just not in every way.

Each department store appeals to a type of shopper, value-oriented, luxury, trend-setter, etc. , but generally, they include sections across age groups. This way as shoppers age they move from one department to another, but remain a customer. Unfortunately, this is also where most department stores are missing the mark and JCPenney is in the crosshairs here. I’m sure they have looked at sales projections for this and determined it’s likely to be a win, but isn’t it just displacing lost apparel sales?

There is still much to be fixed at JCPenney and it’s still not clear to most of us who their target customer really is.

Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

The larger question, as a few of my colleagues allude to is, “Does J.C. Penney deserve to exist?” Doing a nice job on in-store baby shops is a logical thing for a relevant department store to do. But is J.C. Penney relevant? Dropping in a decent baby shop into a typical boring, poorly marketed, under-invested and under-staffed J.C. Penney won’t move the needle. Between Kohl’s, Macy’s and I suppose Primark (I’m not familiar with them), the mid-market consumer is covered. J.C. Penney, Sears/K-Mart…. Bye bye.

Larry Corda
Guest

This would probably be a more powerful move if JCP appealed to more Millennials in both image and merchandise, maybe this will help. Initially this may get curious Millennial moms into the store, but will it translate into sales for the new baby shop or any other department from the increased traffic? Will JCP sell the same strollers, cribs and clothes as other retailers? If so, JCP better be competitively priced because Millennials will do their homework and check online to compare prices. If they can get it cheaper elsewhere, they will. If this happens, JCP will just become a showroom for expecting parents. If JCP can create a strong private label brand for baby merchandise in addition to merchandise made exclusively for JCP from some of the big name brands it will likely be a good thing.

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Braintrust
"A deeper dive into the 'baby business' is frankly a better strategic fit for J.C. Penney than its expansion into major appliances."
"First appliances, now baby shops, what’s next — a RadioShack and Toys “R” Us section?"
"Who’s our customer this week? Boomers? Nope, Millennials. Now it’s Boomers again. Wait! Millennial moms."

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