Among the many scores of problems that J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) has is how deeply it should cut the prices of merchandise to bring buyers to its stores in the final three months of the year. Without a surge in buying during the holiday season, the retailer may be doomed, although some analysts believe it is doomed already. Consumers will look for low prices, as they always do, as the holidays come around.
J.C. Penney already has started to exhibit some of the signs that it is willing to spend a great deal, or lose a great deal, to bolster holiday spending. It has increased its promotion of free shipping, for example. Anyone who buys $25 worth of merchandise online can get it shipped to the store for free, and the buyer will be notified when to pick it up.
J.C. Penney also has begun 50% off sales, the most recent of which will run from October 6 to October 10. The retailer knows that some portion of holiday shoppers will buy gifts well ahead of the normal buying season. If J.C. Penney is to pick up market share, it will have to begin to do it now.
J.C. Penney management has to determine how much it can cut merchandise prices without taking huge losses in an attempt to bring in former shoppers, and perhaps a very few new ones. And will market share gains hold into next year, or disappear with the discounts? J.C. Penney’s sales dropped 12% to $2.7 billion last quarter. As a reward for that, it lost $566 million. J.C. Penney can cut back on some investments, and it has raised money through both debt and equity sales. Those modest buffers might allow it to select certain merchandise and drop prices to irresistible levels, and perhaps irresponsibly low ones.
J.C. Penney has been desperate for well over a year now. Nothing it has attempted has brought shoppers back. Even price cuts may not get people who have abandoned it to return. However, price is all J.C. Penney has left, and it will to have to risk that, even if it will post another quarter of substantial red ink as it tries to buy share.