It’s never been a fashion innovator, and probably never will be one. But the $3.9 billion catalog division of retail giant J.C. Penney is an apparel leader nonetheless, based on sheer size alone. And it is evolving: While its big (1,400-plus pages) general merchandise book accounts for 65% of catalog sales, Penney has been achieving most of its growth through its 18 specialty catalogs, which sell everything from maternity wear to bridal wear to big-and-tall menswear. The big book provides the constant presence to customers, says president of catalog and logistics Randy Ronning, and the specialty apparel books “have driven sales and will continue to drive our business.”
But like many others, J.C. Penney would prefer not to have to print and mail so many costly catalogs. So for the past four years, the company has been developing its Website. By the end of last year, it had made all 250,000 of its SKUs available on the site. Although the Penney name may not be synonymous with the latest fashions, the company nevertheless is emphasizing fashion in its e-commerce venture. “We’re looking at the Internet as a complement to our big book,” Ronning recently told Catalog Age.