J.C. Penney will launch Sephora beauty shops in 70 stores as it expands 32 existing locations, bringing Sephora to 650 of its 1,000-plus stores by the end of 2017. The beauty push comes as J.C. Penney de-emphasizes apparel, a weak link for merchants these days, save for off-price chains and Amazon.com, which have been gobbling up clothing market share. Sephora has been a reliable traffic driver for J.C. Penney, generating higher sales per square foot than the company average, while drawing coveted younger shoppers to its stores. In conjunction with the Sephora news, J.C. Penney announced it would be hiring 800 workers as part of the beauty expansion.
Total Retail's Take: It's wise for J.C. Penney to attach itself to a growing brand like Sephora, which might be able to alleviate some of the department store chain's key challenges — getting shoppers into its stores, and appealing to a younger audience. The beauty retail category, with brands like Ulta, Sephora, and pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens, is faring well compared to other product categories, including apparel, which is what J.C. Penney is more deeply entrenched in. Therefore, investing in beauty and downplaying apparel in its stores is the route J.C. Penney has chosen to take. It will be interesting to see if the decision helps continue the momentum in the retailer's turnaround. And any time retailers are adding jobs back into the economy, especially now, it's a good thing.