J.C. Penney has revamped its Arizona Jean Co. denim brand to appeal to young people in time for the back-to-school season and has enlisted popular YouTubers Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight, twin sisters with a significant social media following and a logo of their own, to serve as Arizona brand ambassadors.
The retailer conducted focus groups with teenagers for input on fashion trends, including what they wear to school and what they look for in clothes, accessories and shopping in general, and applied those insights to the silhouettes, fabrics and prints of its new Arizona merchandise, as well as to the overall shopping experience, according to a company press release.
Arizona’s logo has been redesigned, and the retailer’s Arizona shops-in-shop at J.C. Penney stores have updated lifestyle graphics and signage, including mannequin displays featuring top trends in junior apparel. The brand also now has its own dedicated Arizona Instagram and YouTube channels, where Penney is pushing the #AZYouAre hashtag, and a mobile-first landing page at JCPenney.com, the company said.
Appealing to younger consumers has been a focus at J.C. Penney since former Apple executive Ron Johnson’s ill-fated and brief tenure as chief executive, but for this Arizona brand revamp the retailer has the opportunity provided by social media to amplify its junior apparel offering.
One in five Gen Zers, who are now in elementary school to their early twenties, say that Snapchat influences their purchase decisions — twice as much as their millennial counterparts, according to a study last year by Yes Lifecycle Marketing. That research found that social media more broadly had a big impact on younger shoppers, with more than 80% of Gen Z influenced by social media in their shopping and 74% of millennials. That drops significantly compared to Generation X (58%) and Baby Boomers (41%). In particular, Gen Z is much more influenced by Instagram (44%), Snapchat (21%) and YouTube (32%) than other generations. Millennials, second in each of these categories, matches up at 21%, 11% and 22% respectively.
And the focus on Arizona comes as private labels in many categories have emerged as an important way to differentiate merchandising. It’s a tack taken by Amazon in several categories; Target has rolled out a dozen new apparel and home decor brands and Walmart released four new brands in women's, men's and children's apparel.
"One in three J.C. Penney customers buy Arizona, making it our largest private brand and a key traffic driver," Jodie Johnson, senior vice president and head of merchandising for J.C. Penney, said in a statement. "We're really emphasizing the teen shopper in this brand refresh because we know that once the teen embraces Arizona, her younger siblings — and Mom — will follow. With exciting updates to Arizona, along with our new partnership with Brooklyn and Bailey, we are elevating our credibility with teens as a destination for fashionable looks at a great price."
The back-to-school season could be a major test for the struggling retailer. Late last year, the company attempted a drastic reset and swept away much of its women's inventory, warning of a critical sales slump in the third quarter. But then-CEO Marvin Ellison has said the home category holds promise and, as with appliance sales, is hoping to take market share as Sears stores continue to topple.
Ellison has since departed to lead Lowe's, leaving a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the department store chain as it tries to turn itself around in a retail market that Ellison himself has described as the worst the company has seen in 50 years.
The company posted net losses of $795 million in 2012, $1.2 billion in 2013 (the year Johnson left) and $717 million in 2014. Comparable sales in 2012 fell a harrowing 25%. The next year, the company added more than $2.5 billion in debt to its books. With Ellison at the helm, Penney largely slowed the flow of sales and money out, and even made a profit in 2016, followed by a $116 million loss last year.