No free haircuts at JCP this year

J.C. Penney is counting on a familiar blend of promotional tactics for the 2013 back-to-school season after a slate of merchandising initiatives and a free haircut offer ended horribly last year.

The department store retailer is touting the availability of some familiar brands and promotional pricing along with a new Joe Fresh Kids brand, expanded Levi’s assortments, free customization kits with the purchase of backpacks and shoes during August and dedicated landing pages at Jcp.com for key brands such as Arizona, Levi’s and Total Girl.

The approach is far different from the 2012 season when the company was still attempting to implement an everyday low price strategy, and rolled out several in-store specialty shops as the cornerstone of an ill-fated turnaround effort and offered free haircuts as a means to generate traffic. The combination produced one of the most precipitous sales declines in the history of retail as same-store sales declined 26.1% for the quarter ended October 27, 2012. The architect of the disaster, former president and CEO Ron Johnson is long gone, but vestiges of his handiwork remain.

For example, bringing in the Joe Fresh brand was Johnson’s doing and now the company is relying on it appealing to kids, or more likely parents, to grow back-to-school sales.

"We've completely revitalized our entire kids department, from making sizes easier to find to improving the quality, fit and styling of our merchandise," said Betsy Schumacher, SVP/GMM for children's at J.C. Penney. "The addition of Joe Fresh Kids is just the start of an inspiring new shopping experience at JCP, which features some of the most respected name brands in apparel, shoes and accessories that will make any kid feel excited about going back to school."

Joe Fresh Kids is said to incorporate the latest fashion trends into an exciting and affordable collection of high-quality clothing, shoes and accessories that rivals the style and quality found in children's specialty stores. The brand is uniquely merchandised utilizing special fixtures, accent lighting and bold graphics to create distinct shopping environments in nearly 700 stores across the country.

"After launching Joe Fresh in J.C. Penney stores last March, we are excited to expand this partnership and bring our fresh style at fresh prices to kids across America," said Joe Mimran, creative director of Joe Fresh.

When the arrival of Joe Fresh was first announced, J.C. Penney touted the fact that it is the most popular apparel brand in Canada. However, that distinction would seem to be of little appeal to American consumers, many of whom lack basic knowledge about Canada let alone its top brands.

Even so, J.C. Penney is likely to fare better this year than last as it employs a strategy that is more familiar to shoppers and faces an easy comparison to the prior year.