JCP’s private label push aims to strike the right chord with millennial shoppers

J.C. Penney has been trying to find its footing in the rapidly evolving retail landscape to better resonate with millennials. An essential part of its strategy is a continued focus on private label brands.

Like other department stores, J.C. Penney has lost store traffic to the likes of Amazon. But it’s not just a question of losing sales to convenient online shopping. Millennials tend to prefer a less conventional retail format, and this has many traditional department stores scrambling to stay relevant.

In an effort to boost its comparable store sales, J.C. Penney has announced plans to close 138 stores. It’s not that the embattled retailer is giving up on brick-and-mortar. It’s more a question of trimming underperforming stores that are delivering less than 5% of total annual sales so it can focus on locations that have the best potential to deliver that much-needed boost.

The retailer understands that store closings are not enough, however. Since early last year, J.C. Penney has ramped up its penetration in private label brands to improve margins. In May of last year, it added Boutique+, a plus-size private brand to its portfolio, which also includes a.n.a, Worthington, St. John’s Bay, Arizona, Ambrielle, Stafford, JF J. Ferrar, Xersion, Liz Claiborne,  and JCP Home. Newer additions include Belle + Sky, nicole by Nicole Miller and Collection by Michael Strahan (suit separates, dress shirts, dressy accessories) as well as Strahan’s athleisure brand MSX.

Retailers can leverage private brands to differentiate themselves from other stores and, therefore, drum up foot traffic by selling the notion of exclusivity.

Private label brands, of course, have come a long way. If they were once perceived as cheap, many retailers, J.C. Penney included, have taken steps to revamp lines and offer them at lower prices than national brands without sacrificing quality and style. And if there’s anything that truly resonates with millennial shoppers it’s great quality items at affordable prices.

J.C. Penney seems to understand the importance of connecting with millennials. It’s no surprise to see the retailer team up with digital media company Brit + Co to promote its private label collections. In a recent piece, Brit + Co showcased spring styles to flatter any figure, featuring, in part, J.C. Penney’s private label brands.

Being presented in a style blog not only shifts shoppers’ perception of private label brands by putting them on equal footing with their name brand counterparts, but also allows the retailer to tap into Brit + Co’s online community — an audience of more than 125 million online and across platforms, according to the media company.


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