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By Rusty Williamson
This story first appeared in the September 6, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
DALLAS — J.C. Penney Co. has gone slicker, cleaner and smaller for Christmas.
The retailer has radically revamped its Christmas catalog, which is being mailed to more than 10 million customers this week. The 532-page book, down from over 600 pages last year, is slightly smaller in physical size but much bigger on apparel and accessories fashion trends, personal fitness and value, said John Irvin, president of Penney’s catalog and Internet division.
Other changes include a cleaner, less-cluttered layout, slicker and thicker paper, higher-quality printing and using better photographers and models. Such changes are also showing up in Penney’s other catalogs as the division evolves to better compete with more nimble businesses.
“We’ve taken an intensified approach to gift-giving, changed our look and edited our assortments,” said Irvin, who formerly was chief executive officer at The Spiegel Group before joining Penney’s last year.
“Gone are many traditional apparel categories, such as workwear and Western clothing, and those pages have been replaced by giftable value-focused items. In the past, our holiday big book was very similar to the fall and winter book when it came to fashion, with a lifestyle focus and more complete wardrobe looks. Now it’s about fashion items and key assortments, including faux shearling, lace-trimmed sweaters and T-shirts and organza-trimmed cardigans.”
After last year’s disappointing catalog sales, Penney’s took an introspective look at what went wrong, said Bernie Feiwus, senior vice president and associate director of catalog and Internet.
“We did an extensive customer survey, and customers told us that our Christmas book was a reliable reference guide but still wasn’t exciting, compelling and gift-solution oriented enough for them,” explained Feiwus, who joined Penney’s last year after a lengthy tenure as president and chief executive officer at Neiman Marcus Direct here.
“They really wanted more gifts for teens and tweens, and they really missed fashion jewelry, especially watches, along with more fine jewelry at a value price point. In the past, jewelry had its own catalog.”
The new Christmas catalog, which features a simple cover of four silver stars silhouetted against a dark blue and white background, contains 2,240 items, half of which cost $50 or less.
“We have to keep our target middle-American customers in mind,” said Irvin. “They have budgets and they are very interested in key fashion items, personal care, health and fitness and small electronics. And we have lots to offer in those categories.”
Irvin said holiday catalog sales are planned down significantly against last year but that early sales from the catalog may foretell a different story as early sales have been quite strong.
More than half of Penney’s yearly catalog sales, which last year hit $3.35 billion, are generated by its Christmas book.
This month’s Christmas book mailing will be followed by a few smaller gift catalogs in October.
Penney’s is also developing the niche catalog business and has started mailing out highly focused books averaging about 80 pages each to complement its more robust spring-summer and fall-winter catalogs. Over the next several months, Penney’s plans to mail out books devoted to maternity, cookwear, home furnishings, outdoor lifestyles and women’s and men’s apparel.
All Penney’s catalog merchandise is also available on its Internet site, where sales last year were over $400 million.