This is retail's huge problem: JCP board member

Retailer concerned, more promotional: Pro

Retailers have a big inventory problem as they head into the important spring shopping season, and it's now or never when it comes to whether pent-up demand can help the struggling sector, a J.C. Penney board member told CNBC on Monday.

"If it doesn't happen now, then we've got a real problem," said Stephen Sadove on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "The inventory is there, and now is the time for shopping. It's got to clear out."

Wall Street on Monday morning saw signs the retail sector was thawing out from a frigid winter that hindered economic growth. Retail sales had their biggest gains in a year and a half, according to the Commerce Department.

That bodes well for retailers going into the spring shopping season, but the frigid winter left "a lot of inventory that needs to be cleared," said Sadove, former CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue.

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Retail companies have turned to bigger and longer promotions to deal with unsold goods, he said. The massive inventories will likely lead to margin pressures during this quarter, Sadove added.

"We do have pent up demand from the winter," Sadove said. "The winter was terrible. The retailer is feeling a malaise. Overall, you're seeing a little more of a promotional environment. ... You have this late Easter the retailers are really counting on right now. This is the big time."

Sadove named Macy's as a retailer winning the race for market share through investments in technology and "omnichannel" strategies, which melds brick-and-mortar storefronts with online and mobile platforms.

—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen.