J.C. Penney on Thursday announced an expansion of its baby selection into new merchandise categories, adding bottles, pacifiers, diaper bags, bouncer seats and activity centers from top brands to its traditional offering of cribs, high chairs, strollers and car seats. The merchandise will be featured in a shop-in-shop style, with updated graphics and signage, according to a company press release.
The expanded assortment, which also includes an expanded offering of baby clothing, including a refresh of its Okie Dokie private label, will be found in 500 J.C. Penney stores starting Aug. 30, with some additional items available online, the retailer said.
J.C. Penney senior vice president and head of merchandising James Starke said in a statement that those locations were strategically chosen because most are "near a specialty baby retailer that has recently closed its doors," presumably Babies R Us.
As one of the executives taking on CEO duties in the wake of Marvin Ellison's departure, J.C. Penney's executive vice president of supply chain Mike Robbins made a splash last month when he told the Wall Street Journal that the retailer would be less fixated on millennial shoppers going forward. The retailer "lost its way" chasing younger shoppers and abandoning its core middle-aged female customer, he said in an interview with the Journal.
But analysts at Jane Hali & Associates see that as yet another blunder. "JCP has tried this before and failed, [and we're] concerned about this approach," Jane Hali analysts said in comments emailed to Retail Dive. "Middle age is between 45 and 65. This consumer is not buying apparel. Most retailers targeting this audience are failing."
Furthermore, the dramatic reset that Penney staged ahead of the holidays last year, sweeping away its women's apparel at steep discounts to make way for a fresh offering, simply didn't work, they said.
Maybe this baby effort, which is aimed mostly at millennials after all, will. The launch is timed with the retailer's annual Baby Sale later this month and will be promoted through a dedicated 12-page direct mail piece, showcasing the new baby product categories available in J.C. Penney stores, the retailer said.
But those sales may yet suffer, despite the market share ceded by Babies R Us and despite their upgraded signage, if they're in sub-par locations. "The in-store shopping experience continues to be poor," Jane Hali warned about Penney's stores, adding that its online operations are in a better position. "The mobile app offers a great experience. Online, they continue to improve the navigation and expediency of the website, but it lacks engagement."
Jane Hali did note that the retailer is fully omnichannel. Nursery furniture like cribs and mattresses are available to take home the same day in select stores, while the rest will arrange to have those purchases shipped to the customer's home, according to Penney's release. Coordinating dressers, changing tables and gliders, plus other baby items like maternity wear, nursing bras and more are available online, the retailer said.