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JC Penney ditches chief merchandising role, once a lofty retail perch

  • J.C. Penney will no longer have a chief merchandising officer, once one of the most powerful jobs in retail.
  • Current CMO John Tighe will be leaving the company and will not be replaced.
  • The role of chief merchandising officer has changed significantly along with retail industry.
Pedestrians pass a JC Penney store in New York.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Pedestrians pass a JC Penney store in New York.

J.C. Penney will no longer have a chief merchandising officer, once one of the most powerful jobs in retail, further demonstrating the industry's turmoil.

Its current CMO John Tighe, will be leaving the company and will not be replaced, the retailer said on Friday.

The erstwhile glorified ability of industry leaders to spot trends in advance, which catapulted many retail executives to the role of CEO, has become increasingly irrelevant. Simply, fashion no longer brings shoppers to stores; it is an evolving mix of service, selection and price.

Amazon and Wal-Mart are experimenting with in-home package delivery. Kohl's is accepting Amazon returns in its stores. Subscription services like Stitch Fix are choosing and shipping clothes for clients through data-driven personal shopping. Grocer Kroger is joining Lidl in entering the apparel business.

As for fashion, buyers can no longer spot or drive trends a year in advance as they once could (a chain of events made famous by The Devil Wears Prada.) Fast fashion has trained shoppers to see fads by the week, not the season.

J.C. Penney saw its shares drop to an all-time low last month, when it slashed 2017 profit and comparable-sales forecasts because it had to slice prices of unsold women's apparel. The retailer, which has a market capitalization of $736.5 million, has watched its shares drop 88 percent over the past five years.

"This simplified structure offers greater flexibility, which is critical to ensuring our assortment remains fresh and relevant, and compels more shoppers to choose JCPenney," said Penney CEO Marvin Ellison of the change, in a press release.

    For J.C. Penney, the shift also comes as the retailer is looking to focus on selling appliances rather than apparel, amid a broader drop in the amount shoppers are spending on clothes.

    But the department store still makes a significant amount of its sales from clothes. Last year it made nearly a quarter of its sales from women's apparel. Combined with men's apparel and accessories, it made nearly half.