Following several quarters of poor performance, JCPenney is trying to shake its reputation as a stale retailer by transforming into “Jacques Penné” for the holidays.
Starting Friday, JCPenney is hosting a two-day holiday pop-up shop in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, which will include gift ideas curated by influencers including television personality Nicole Richie and fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein. The event will be paired with a 360-degree virtual reality feature that allows users outside of New York to make purchases from the Jacques Penné shop on desktop and mobile through January 7.
The store, bedazzled in glitter and festive decor, is situated strategically amid the hustle and bustle of one of Manhattan’s most trafficked retail locales. To the unassuming eye, it could pass as an Etsy shop come to life, rather an event put together by a beleaguered mall brand like JCPenney — which is exactly what it’s going for.
“In retail, this is a critical time for JCPenney, but also for all retailers,” said JCPenney CMO Marci Grebstein. “When I started in July, I constantly had people come up to me while I was wearing JCPenney, and they were incredibly surprised about the level of style. When they heard about the price, they’d be very flabbergasted. [Our goal was determining] how you beat that challenge. Beyond advertising, how do we let shoppers experience this?”
The virtual experience of the JCPenney pop-up
Grebstein, now six months into her role, said both the physical and virtual stores were intended for discovery, to remind consumers of what JCPenney has to offer by introducing it in a fresh way. As part of the partnership, the influencers — which also include Disney channel star Laura Marano and YouTubers Brooklyn and Baily McKnight — will promote the virtual shop on their social channels, allowing JCPenney to reach new demographics of followers. (Richie alone has 4 million followers on Instagram and 5 million on Twitter.)
The launch of the pop-up comes after slumping sales that caused JCPenney to reduce third-quarter profit forecasts so it could prioritize getting rid of overstock inventory using heavy discounting. As a result, on Black Friday, it opened earlier than most of its peers and competitors, kicking off sales at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and leaving doors open for 32 consecutive hours. (In the end, JCPenney had the second highest average discount percentage for consumers after Kohl’s, at 66 percent.)
Along with Grebstein, JCPenney’s leadership team has been transparent about the brand’s sales woes and urged a need for a strong performing holiday season this year. The virtual holiday store was, in part, a response to that: It was meant to up the brand’s cool factor by taking part in the pop-up trend, while bolstering e-commerce and mobile sales.
“There’s a general perception in that market that ‘maybe JCPenney isn’t for me,’” she said. “But we heard back from consumers, and what we learned is… they were so surprised at the available, relevant gifts and their prices.”
This is JCPenney’s second virtual reality venture, following a 2015 holiday campaign that used Oculus Rift technology. The experience — which was set up outside of JCPenney stores in four mall locations, in an attempt to to lure people into stores — took users on a virtual ride on Santa’s sleigh.
JCPenney’s latest VR iteration is decidedly less gimmicky in nature, and more like an attempt to experiment with viable ways to use the technology to achieve sales. While VR is not completely novel to the retail industry, fashion brands like Rebecca Minkoff have been more prone to test virtual commerce than traditional department stores. In order to create a user-friendly experience, JCPenney worked with digital creative agency Periscope.
“For an experience like this, it’s about understanding that people are shopping in different ways today,” said Matt Miller, vp and creative director at Periscope. “We want to be able to reach shoppers in those channels. This digital and virtual store provides an opportunity for that.”