J.C. Penney Open on Thanksgiving, No Solution for Sales Trouble

24/7 Wall St.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (JCP) will be open on Thanksgiving, at least so far as letting customers in at 8 p.m. that day can be considered Thanksgiving hours. Those four hours before midnight barely qualify. The move will do little for J.C. Penney. Some other chains probably will do the same. Additional hours will not bring back the army of customers who have deserted this almost-dead retailer.

One reason the Thanksgiving hours are not likely to do much for J.C. Penney is that Macy's Inc. (NYSE: M) already has decided to do the same. As is normal in the retail market, other large retailers likely will follow suit to make sure no one or two companies have an advantage. Count on Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Target Corp. (TGT) and the Kmart and Sears divisions of Sears Holdings Inc. (SHLD) to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, or perhaps earlier to trump the others. As the companies go back and forth to be the one that opens earliest, the time could inch closer and closer to Thanksgiving midday.

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Store hours cannot make up for what bad publicity, pricing mistakes, odd merchandise selection and poor inventory control have done. Same-store sales may not be falling at the rate of more than 20% that they did last year. However, the most recent data show that:

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Sales for the fiscal month of September, ended October 5, were down 4.0% when compared to September 2012. This constitutes a 580 basis point improvement over August 2013.

The slowing in the pace of erosion did not impress investors. Along with concerns about J.C. Penney's financial viability, continuing poor sales data have helped pushed the retailer's share price to many-decade lows at just above $7. In February 2012, the stock changed hands at more than $42.

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J.C. Penney's biggest enemy has shifted from decisions made by management about merchandise selection and store configuration to stories in the press. The more often consumers read about the chances that J.C. Penney may have to close altogether, the less likely those consumers are to go to a J.C. Penney store to shop. Open on Thanksgiving is no better than open any other day, as far as the crippled retailer is concerned.

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