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JCPenney Reenvisions Beauty Post-Sephora, and It's Diverse

Published October 4, 2021
Published October 4, 2021

Beauty brands, especially BIPOC-founded brands, are enthusiastic about the new JCPenney Beauty. The retailer announced last Thursday more of the details of its new strategy and brand assortment that doubles down on brands for a diverse audience. Those familiar with JCPenney’s efforts said diversity is mission critical.

JCPenney’s move comes on the heels of the opening of two powerful beauty retail partnerships—Sephora and Kohl’s, and Target and Ulta Beauty. Both Sephora and Ulta Beauty have put extra muscle behind adding brands for diverse shoppers. Ulta Beauty has its MUSE Program—Magnify, Uplift, Support, and Empower Black voices in beauty, and Sephora will have more than doubled its representation of Black-owned brands by the end of 2021—among other efforts.

Some say JCPenney goes even deeper is the recruitment of emerging brands (some who have no physical distribution) that will get a chance to play on a big stage. To assist in curating brands, JCPenney teamed up with Thirteen Lune and Landing International, both experts in up-and-coming BIPOC-owned businesses.

“The concept they are launching is hyper inclusive in all categories and reflects many minority female owned brands. The program we are creating was founded by individuals who look like the JCPenney consumer,” said Sarah Chung, Chief Executive Officer of Landing International, a B2B marketplace and retail technology platform.

Evonna Kuehner, founder of ANOVÉ, a skincare brand for all skin tones that is part of the Thirteen Lune roster, hammers home the importance of gaining recognition from a national retailer. “As a small, Black-owned business, the fact that we have the opportunity to launch with JCPenney and Thirteen Lune is thrilling because the focus on inclusivity is directly tied to our brand values. With this launch, it is my hope that ANOVÉ can reach more people who may be at the beginning of their journey in terms of establishing a beauty routine. For those who already have an established routine, I hope ANOVÉ encourages them to make more value-based purchases,” she told BeautyMatter.

In a statement, Michelle Wlazlo, Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer for JCPenney Beauty said the new concept grew out of direct feedback from customers. “Together with our brand partners, we have reimagined every aspect of our beauty experience—from the highly curated assortment and welcoming space to the integrated loyalty program and all new e-commerce experience. We are incredibly proud to bring JCPenney Beauty to life in stores and online this fall.”

“The concept they are launching is hyper inclusive in all categories and reflects many minority female owned brands."
By Sarah Chung, Chief Executive Officer, Landing International

Beginning in mid-October, JCPenney will reveal nine (joining one that is already up and running) stores featuring the newly curated beauty brands that range from legendary names to what the company called “fresh indie finds.” The online experience kicks off on October 15. The product categories span makeup, skincare, haircare, styling tools, fragrance, nail care, and bath and body products at varying price points (mirroring the past Sephora categories). The retailer is calling the first stores a pilot and there will be a pause before another swatch of stores.

Eventually, JCPenney Beauty is expected to be rolled out into all 600 stores by 2023, after its Sephora partnership ends in 2022. Those in the industry said JCPenney had been working on a blueprint even before the blockbuster announcements of the Kohl’s and Sephora and Target and Ulta Beauty collaborations.

“The key to success is doing something totally different than other beauty retailers,” said Chung.

The new concept, say experts, could hit a bull’s-eye, overcoming some of the past speed bumps endemic to Sephora. While Sephora undeniably elevated JCPenney’s beauty business, what the new concept does better is address the wide diversity of JCPenney’s consumer along with serving up a better range of price points. Also, there will be a stronger bond between the JCPenney Salon business and the retail beauty products. And going forward, beauty purchases will be included in JCPenney’s loyalty program (Sephora did not have reciprocity, sources said).

“In some markets, Sephora wasn’t the right fit for Penney,” said one source. Also, JCPenney was limited by shopping center locations while Kohl’s moves Sephora into easier in-and-out strip centers.

Armed with consumer research, JCPenney designed the mix to include mass, masstige, and prestige brands. The company said that nearly half of the brands in the JCPenney Beauty assortment are masstige brands, “the tier fueling the most innovation, growth and experimentation.” The other half of the business is balanced between mass and prestige brands.

The company’s blog lists mass lines like Almay, e.l.f., Revlon, Cover Girl, and Burt’s Bees; masstige like Sara Happ and W3LL People; and prestige including Joanna Vargas and Wander. Customers can expect to see recognizable favorites such as Skin Gym, Curlsmith, Alaffia, and Solinotes fragrance. Also, JCPenney said it is the only brick-and-mortar location in the US for brands such as I’M MEME, nooni, Kleem Organics, and Better Natured.

Thirteen Lune, the inclusive e-commerce site founded by Nyakio Grieco, a beauty entrepreneur and founder of Nyakio Beauty and Patrick Herning, the founder of the luxury plus-size fashion label 11 Honoré, brought in 39 of the 170-plus brands including Buttah Skin, Bossy Cosmetics, Mischo Beauty, Pholk Beauty, Prados Beauty, Sara Happ, Spraise, Vernon François, and Wander Beauty. Grieco calls the concept “game changing.”

The Landing pored over numerous lines before finalizing a portfolio of 17 entries from its BIPOC-owned brands including Kmoni Cosmetics and Everyday Humans. The platform’s selection features several K-beauty brands such as Cosrx and Hanskin. “We reviewed probably over 100 brands with them [JCPenney], and we really chose ones that were unique and different,” said Chung. All brands were sourced through Landing’s digital marketplace, a platform that connects growing brands with buyers from major and mid-sized retailers. With 90% of Landing’s marketplace registered brands being minority-owned, the partnership embodies Landing’s and JCPenney’s shared mission of delivering inclusive, high-quality products to the beauty market.

Service will be part of the new experience. To build excitement and engagement with retail staff, Landing taps its training tool to provide a single point of product knowledge to educate JCPenney’s in-store sales associates on the participating brands. Built on best practices shared by retail education experts, Landing’s training technology streamlines the creation of training materials so that indie brands save time and resources on their training programs, while still competing with established brand names for sales associate attention. “It is a hub, so sales associates go to one location to see everything.”

"Gen Z and Millennials have fewer loyalties and are price sensitive. Trading down is prevalent now, so Penney shoppers will very well check out new products to see if they fit their needs."
By Allan Mottus, former editor, WWD

The JCPenney and Landing partnership is powered by technology to bring best-in-class beauty products from the next generation of inclusive indie brands to customers across America.

JCPenney’s in-house team handpicked the remainder of the brand list, which includes JCPenney-exclusive brands Mirabella and Makeup Geek, as well as I’m Meme, Nooni, Kleem Organics, and Better Natured Haircare. The original 170-plus contenders are expected to be joined by more lines as the pilot is evaluated.

Salons will play a major role in the new concept, those familiar with the rollout said. In sync with the JCPenney Salon, the new beauty business will be eligible to participate in storewide discounts at a reduced savings of 10%. Customers will be able to earn and redeem points on JCPenney Beauty products as part of the JCPenney Rewards loyalty program.

Brands working with JCPenney note its loyal fans, its accessible pricing, and its generational appeal. While the retailer skews older, many mothers and offspring shop the retailer.

"Growing up in Kentucky, I would always go shopping at JCPenney with my mom and my friends. The company offered the beauty and wellness experience I wished every store offered back in the day,” said Niambi Cacchioli, founder of Pholk Beauty. “I love the idea of being a part of a program where several generations of people can stock up on beauty essentials together. For Pholk, this opportunity has been an exciting moment of growth for our brand in real-time. It has proven that we can scale back our manufacturing and still remain true to our commitment to sourcing from independent Black, women farmers to create the all-natural products that our customers love.”

While the buzz is positive and hopeful, a few experts noted that the small and slow rollout (only 10 of 650 doors) might not immediately deliver the needed impact. Others who have tried before, including Kohl’s, have not always been able to crack the beauty code.

JCPenney has had a long and winding road with beauty. “Penney has always based its beauty on what pedestrian traffic it offers a brand. Up to the early 1980s, JCP was considered a mass volume retailer that competed with Sears and Montgomery Ward primarily with Revlon and other better mass lines along with mass class fragrances,” recalled industry consultant and former WWD editor Allan Mottus.

“From the early 1980s to 2006, it offered department store castoffs and a good group of prestige fragrances. By 2006, Sephora was carried in many stores. Sephora gave JCP an assortment of prestige makeup, skin care and fragrances that gave the chain good competitive footing against traditional department stores,” he added.

The retailer’s gamble with small and diverse brands could prove fortuitous. With social media, small brands have gained share against larger traditional lines, Mottus said. With the mix it is curating, the retailer can serve niche markets and bring new brands in if existing ones don’t perform.

“As the department store universe is much smaller, there are fewer prestige brands that have critical mass. Gen Z and Millennials have fewer loyalties and are price sensitive. Trading down is prevalent now, so Penney shoppers will very well check out new products to see if they fit their needs,” said Mottus, who is authoring a book about the history of the beauty business.

The space is mostly in the same area as Sephora and, according to WWD, will be accented with natural wood tones and soft-white coloring with sight lines making the department visible from other parts of the store. Footage will be in the 2,000-square-foot range and look very different than the past Sephora décor. Visits to some JCPenney stores revealed difficulties seeing the Sephora presentation in the rest of the store. In Kohl’s, Sephora has its own entrance and its signature décor package.

The 15-year-old Sephora program is winding down but remains active in other stores and will expire in late 2020. JCPenney settled a legal dispute with Sephora in May 2020 after the department store accused Sephora of attempting to back out of its long-term contract early. Once negotiations ended, Sephora announced its deal with Kohl’s.

While everyone awaits results from the other two big collaborations, it will also be interesting to see if JCPenney can make its mark in beauty with a clean slate and new plan.

JCPenney Beauty will launch in-store at select JCPenney retail locations beginning in:

  • Davenport, FL
  • Dearborn, MI
  • Greenville, NC
  • McAllen, TX
  • Mesquite, TX
  • Niles, OH
  • Springfield, MO
  • Saint Cloud, MN
  • Trumbull, CT
  • Whittier, CA

Thirteen Lune brands entering JCPenney Beauty: Afropick, Anové, Bossy Cosmetics, Canviiy, Cashmere Moon, Ceylon, CTZN Cosmetics, Exa, Gloryscent, Glosshood, Golde, Joanna Vargas, Kadalys, Kaike, Liha Beauty, Mischo Beauty, Mora Cosmetics, Pholk, Prados Beauty, Prim, Sara Happs, Shaz & Kiks, Skot Beaute, Sundree, Tail-Lite, Unsun, Vaycay, Wander Beauty.

Landing International entering JCPenney are: Cosrx, Pure Lotus, Neogen, Unplugged Essentials, The Renatural, St. Moriz, Clean Circle, Everyday Humans, Kmoni Cosmetics, When Beauty, Common Ground, By Wishtrend, Hanskin, Isntree, Leaders, O.R.G Skincare, Keep Cool.


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