JCPenney tests new inclusive beauty product concept at Trumbull mall

TRUMBULL — The door to JCPenney at the Westfield Trumbull Mall had barely opened Friday morning and two Fairfield County teenagers, Emily Presa and Alexa Hammond, eagerly checking out the department store’s newest addition.

The venerable Texas-based company on Friday launched a pilot program aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion in the skin care, makeup and beauty segment. JCPenney has taken space that was once occupied by Sephora and created its own “store-within-a-store.”

The space in the upper level of the department store is one of just 10 nationwide — and the only one in the Northeast where the pilot program was launched. There are more than 170 beauty brands at a variety of prices on display in the brightly lit space.

It was the prices that drew Presa and Hammond to the store.

Before the Sephora in the JCPenney closed a little over a month ago, customer loyalty rewards from Sephora could only be spent there.

“It will be really good to make our money go further,” said Presa, a 19-year-old from Bridegport.

“You can use the rewards from anything you buy at Penneys here,” said Hammond, an 18-year-old from Stratford.

The remaining JC Penney locations will join in the “store-within-a store concepts” as the business arrangements with Sephora expire. Lucy Richards, JC Penney’s Trumbull general manager, said the roll out will be complete by the end of next year.

Some of the beauty products for people of color include Buttah Skin, Bossy Cosmetics, Mischo Beauty, Pholk Beauty, Prados Beauty, Sara Happ, Spraise, Vernon François, and Wander Beauty.

The inclusive beauty products are also available on the JCPenney website.

Of the more than 170 beauty brands that are part of the pilot program, about 40 are produced by minority entrepreneurs for people of color. The assortment will span makeup, skin care, hair care, styling tools, fragrance, nail care, and bath and body products.

“Rooted in inclusivity, JCPenney Beauty grew out of direct feedback from our customers.” said Michelle Wlazlo, JCPenney’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. “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.”

Customers will be able to earn and redeem points on JCPenney Beauty products as part of the JCPenney Rewards loyalty program. The chain’s credit card members earn 1 point for every $1 spent, and non-credit card members earn 1 point for every $2 spent.

Once 200 points are reached, members earn a $10 Reward certificate.

The retailer is the only brick-and-mortar location in the U.S. for several brands, including I’M MEME, nooni, Kleem Organics, and Better Natured.

JC Penney filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy in May 2020 and emerged from it last December, having been rescued by mall landlords Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management.

Thanks to the deal, JCPenney was able to emerge from bankruptcy with $1.5 billion in new debt financing.

Reaction to Penney’s new strategy among retail experts was mixed.

David Cadden, a professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University’s School of Business, said marketing of inclusive beauty products toward people of color is “an interesting idea.”

“If they were to take the entrepreneurs of color whose products they are selling and using them to leverage interest within the local community or to work with local educational institutions, it might be more effective,” he said.

Burt Flickinger, managing director of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, said chain pharmacies underserve communities of color when it comes to beauty products. That may allow JCPenney to make some inroads in that segment of the market, he said.

But Flickinger said JCPenney’s bankruptcy hit Sephora hard and ultimately the French company elected to go with more free-standing locations.

Sephora’s flagship store on the Champs-Élysée in Paris attracts six million a year, he said.

“Sephora is one of the most powerful beauty brands in the world,” Flickinger said.

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About Dian Sastro

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