Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 25.
Updated to include comments from Macy's CEO and overnight shopping photos
For the second straight year, J.C. Penney swung open its doors at 3:00 pm on turkey day at over 1,000 stores nationwide while mall rivals Macy's (M) - Get Report and Sears (SHLD) stuck to their traditional 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. respective Black Friday openings. Stores stayed open through the night and into Black Friday morning, too. And once again, J.C. Penney was rewarded for its decision to open early and work late with lines snaking around the insides of its stores across the country. When finally inside, shoppers frantically scooped up $20 St. John's Bay puffer jackets, discounted home goods, $19.99 boots and $9 sweaters.
"There are about 600 people waiting outside, more than last year," said a J.C. Penney associate who worked the first shift of the day, and whom TheStreet interviewed inside a Long Island, N.Y., store ahead of the Thanksgiving opening. Although the 18-year veteran of J.C. Penney wasn't too thrilled about having to host her Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday, she was keen on the holiday pay and the much-improved morale among employees under CEO Marvin Ellison, who is celebrating his second holiday season as J.C. Penney's chief.
Without question, J.C. Penney has pulled out all the stops to win the holiday season.
To speed up what J.C. Penney admits was a painfully slow checkout process last year, it has replaced 7,000 cash registers out of a total of 26,000 company-wide. Those registers that didn't get replaced received a systems upgrade to improve checkout efficiency. The company also added 18,000 new scanning guns at its registers that allow for the scanning of coupons -- beloved by its price conscious customers -- on the J.C. Penney mobile app. A year ago, it didn't have that capability.
Those product categories, such as big and tall sizes, that have been such a hit among J.C. Penney's middle America shoppers received extra inventory so the company doesn't miss out on sales during the holidays. Meanwhile, roughly 200 J.C. Penney stores are now able to ship product directly from stores to service orders placed online. All 1,000 J.C. Penney stores nationwide also offer consumers the capability to buy something online, and have it picked up same-day in-store within four hours.
One executive did disagree with the notion that J.C. Penney has won the start of the holiday shopping season, however. "I think [us opening at 5 p.m.] all worked out best for our employees, and it appears to be that way for our customers as well," said Macy's Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren in a phone interview with TheStreet on Friday.
Here are multiple photos from J.C. Penney's Thanksgiving Day openings that suggest it clearly has started the holiday shopping season on a festive note.
Long Island, N.Y.
Mob scene in the apparel section.
Lake Jackson, Texas
Texans love the big lines to get inside J.C. Penney.
Short sleeves for folks here.
Black and white filter can't distort the number of people at this J.C. Penney.
J.C. Penney's boot section gets bombed.
So ... many ... people.