'Confusing' pricing and too much inventory: JCPenney CEO reveals the company's core problems after 4 months on the job

Business Insider/Hayley PetersonA JCPenney store in Richmond, Virginia.
  • JCPenneyCEO Jill Soltau said Thursday that the company is failing to adequately deliver on some fundamentals of “good retail.”
  • “There is a lot of action we need to take to reestablish and repair the fundamentals of retail,” she said.
  • Soltau said JCPenney needs to work on clearing out unsold inventory, improving the stores’ product mix, and establishing a less “confusing” pricing strategy.
  • Soltau became the CEO of JCPenney in October. The company reported Thursday that same-store sales fell 4% during the holiday quarter.

JCPenney CEO Jill Soltau said Thursday that the department-store chain has a “confusing” pricing strategy and is failing to adequately deliver on some core fundamentals of “good retail.”

Soltau made the remarks on an earnings call in response to a question about what she’s learned since taking the helm at JCPenney in October, just two weeks before the start of the critical holiday quarter, during which JCPenney’s same-store sales fell 4%.

“What did I learn over holiday? A lot,” she said. “There is a lot of action we need to take to reestablish and repair the fundamentals of retail. There are very key parts of this business that all of us in retail have to have established and have working well on a daily basis in order to just do good retail.”

JCPenney100Business Insider/Hayley PetersonJCPenney CEO Jill Soltau said the company’s pricing strategy is ‘confusing.’

Soltau said she has spent time walking through stores, engaging with customers, and analysing data from shopper surveys to identify the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and to develop a plan for reinvigorating sales.

Her top priorities going forward include clearing out unsold inventory, improving the stores’ product mix, and establishing a clear pricing strategy, among other initiatives, she said.

Read more: JCPenney plans to close 27 stores as sales sink

“Reducing and enhancing our inventory and clearing unproductive inventory … is great for our cash flow and great for gross margin, but it’s also critically important to the customers’ experience,” she said.

“The other piece is how we are promoting,” she added. “I think that is one of the key initiatives that we’ll be working on here in the coming months because we are not being as strategic in how we speak to the customer and engage with the customer through our pricing and promotion.”

JCPenney79Business Insider/Hayley PetersonSoltau also cited clearing out ‘unproductive’ inventory as a priority.

She called the company’s pricing strategy “confusing” and said “you might not know exactly when you can get the best value at JCPenney, which, in fact, every day you should be able to get a great value at JCPenney.”

At the same time, Soltau said the holiday quarter has made her “even more convinced” that the company can deliver better results.

“Our customer wants us to be restored to greatness,” she said, adding that customers have “great memories” associated with the “storied” JCPenney brand. “We just have to be better and improve how we are showing up for her shopping experience and what we are selling.”

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