We shopped at Macy's and JCPenney to see which department store is better - and the winner was overwhelmingly clear
Bethany Biron/Business Insider
- Department stores have been among the hardest hit in the ongoing retail apocalypse, as retailers continue to struggle against falling sales and declining foot traffic.
- While both Macy's and JCPenney have been quietly shuttering stores in a move toward reconsolidation, Macy's is showing that its renovation efforts and investment in experiential retail is starting to pay off.
- We visited Macy's and JCPenney stores in New York City and saw that while Macy's is finding a way to reinvent its brick-and-mortar strategy, JCPenney is failing to innovate.
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However, as department stores across the industry continue to face the chopping block, Macy's efforts to reinvent its physical stores is starting to translate to sales while its peers continue to slip into ruin. The department store reported stronger than expected sales for the first quarter of 2019, with same-store sales increasing by 0.7%, thanks to in-store renovations, improved e-commerce, and experimenting with pop-up concepts.
Meanwhile, JCPenney can't seem to find its footing amid a constantly fluctuating leadership team and its struggle to align with a cohesive brand identity. In the first quarter of 2019, JCPenney reported that same-store sales decreased by 5.5% and that it planned to shutter an additional 27 stores before the end of the year.
We visited Macy's and JCPenney stores located near each other in midtown Manhattan and saw that while Macy's is finding a way to breathe new life into the brand, JCPenney is teetering on the brink of collapse.
Our first stop was JCPenney. The only remaining location in New York City is situated within the Manhattan Mall in midtown.
Once you enter the mall, there are a smattering of signs directing shoppers to the lower levels, where JCPenney is located.
As we descend into the lower levels, the first thing we notice is that the lighting is especially dim. It's not an especially warm and enticing atmosphere.
We start in women's apparel, where there is clearly an overstock of inventory.
Despite the ubiquitous sales throughout the section, nobody seemed to be touching tables like this one, boasting "buy one, get one free" shorts.
Nor were they browsing these St. John's Bay polos, stacked high and on sale for 40% off.
Despite the piles and piles of unsold inventory, most of the store was pretty tidy. However, there was still the occasional sloppy pile of discarded products.
Throughout the store, there were numerous size-able sale sections, featuring highly discounted apparel.
Meanwhile, there was not a single soul to be found in the jewelry department — not even a sales associate.
The home goods area was similarly unpopulated.
Near the registers we found some uninspired "new arrivals" displays, like this one featuring picked over mugs and tumblers for bridesmaids.
The only somewhat bustling part of JCPenney was its in-store Sephora.
However, beyond Sephora, not even its major name-brand partners seemed to have much appeal to consumers.
Next, we visited Macy's at its famous Herald Square location in New York City.
On the first of the gargantuan store's nine stories, we were immediately inundated with high-end designer brands. Burberry was among the first brands we saw.
As well as Louis Vuitton and Coach, which were well-lit and inviting in comparison to the bleak feel of the JCPenney store.
As we walked through the first floor, we found signs and an escalator up to Macy's new pop-up store concept.
The store's mannequin displays were much more innovative and visually appealing than JCPenney's.
Macy's also has a full food court, one of several food options scattered throughout the store.
Among them include Auntie Anne's and Carvel.
Macy's has its own Big Piano, the interactive toy made famous by FAO Schwarz and an iconic scene from the Tom Hanks movie, "Big."
However, Macy's wasn't without its faults. On a lower level, we found a messy purse sale positioned next to ongoing construction.
There was a lot of caution tape. It looked like a retail crime scene, one where you could also score bags for 80% off.
Toward the top of the building we found an ode to "Miracle on 34th Street." Macy's serves as a pivotal part of the movie's plot.
Macy's has separate, well-delineated areas for its men's and women's stores. Within these departments we found a mix of designers and brand names across price points.
Macy's also has a number of its own private-label brands, including International Concepts.
The shoe department was especially immaculate.
We found a room dedicated to shoe discounts bustling with shoppers taking advantage of a final sale.
Though the store has a dedicated beauty department, it also features various kiosks and specialty brands interspersed on different floors.
Unlike the JCPenney home goods section, we actually spotted a few consumers at Macy's.
Ultimately, it was impossible to deny that Macy's is finding a way to turn its performance around, while JCPenney's continues to falter.
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