PENNEY’S RETOOLS SITE SEEKING PROFITABILITY

Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — The big changes are continuing at J.C. Penney under the leadership of recently installed chief executive officer Allen Questrom.
J.C. Penney said Wednesday it has redesigned and retooled the three-year-old Web site, at JCPenney.com, in an effort to make the e-commerce destination profitable by yearend, in part, by luring new customers and pumping up the sales volume. And it’s not like JCPenney.com hasn’t had some success so far: It’s eyeing sales estimated to reach $450 million online this year, and has quickly become one of the most popular ‘Net destinations mounted by merchants e-tailing apparel.
Paul S. Pappajohn, president of JCPenney.com, said the site has been revamped with a new look that’s cleaner and less cluttered, and a new merchandising focus that accents trends and lifestyles. He said new technology includes search engines that are more analytical and smarter; shopper-oriented navigation tools designed to help find items faster and with fewer steps; and tools that enable Penney’s merchandisers to constantly update trend and special-offer information online.
“We’re focused on profitability,” said Pappajohn. “And we think we will achieve profitability this year. We’re planning on sales of $450 million this year. We did $294 million in 2000, which was a 188 percent increase over 1999 when we did $102 million. We’re focused on driving our growth.”
He said the Web site, at jcpenney.com is working closely with fashion merchandisers and trendwatchers in Penney’s stores and catalogs divisions to ascertain the particular needs of its Internet shoppers. “Our extensive focus group studies that we’ve done told us that our Internet shoppers wanted different search options and navigation paths, depending on what they were shopping for, whether themselves, family, or a gift,” Pappajohn related. “The new site tailors the shopping experience to those needs. We wanted to move toward fulfilling emotional needs of our shoppers.”
The new look at jcpenney.com was quietly unveiled in late February. Since then, it has been refined and polished to achieve what Pappajohn called a clean and modern look. The home page of JCPenney.com, for example, reflects a clean-and-simple approach: graphics are in vibrant shades of purple, yellow and aqua and photography is colorful but lean: the page is filled with a single image of a model wearing a vanilla blouse, holding a bunch of pink tulips. The copy reads: “The colors of spring, bright and exciting, filled with new life.”
The fashion presentation at the old jcpenney.com was typically a jumble of smaller photographs and the myriad of graphics and copy sometimes confused cybershoppers more than it guided them. From the front page, shoppers can quickly navigate to a chosen area, and women’s leads the list of categories users can select from.
A glide through the women’s offerings Wednesday found styles categorized by brand, size and fashion trend, as well as boxed trend reports that play up the season’s hottest looks, including shimmery shirts and nautical-inspired casualwear. There are also apparel specialty shops, including a in-depth presentation of junior plus-size merchandise.
Most fashion pages also included boxes with wardrobe suggestions that depict a total look. For example, clicking on an Asian-inspired junior T-shirt will produce not only a page devoted to the T-shirt but also a suggestion box that features matching components such as rip-stop pants or denim jeans. The ploy is designed to promote multiple sales, and the complete look can be sent to the shopping cart with a single click.