NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- J.C. Penney (JCP) was all but dead two years ago when holiday sales plunged 32%.
Now, the department store retailer is revamping the look of its stores and improving its inventory of apparel and novelty items in hopes of beating last year's 2% holiday sales gains. J.C. Penney expects fourth-quarter same-store sales to increase by 2% to 4% this year.
Shoppers visiting Penney's will see more Levi's jeans, St. John's Bay sweaters, tech-centric toys and seasonal attire.
One of this year's innovations is the "buy online, ship from store" program, which will be tested at 50 stores around the country to reduce the likelihood of missed sales because items were out of stock. Other chains already have a similar program, including Macy's (M) , Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY) .
TheStreet recently visited one of the test stores at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., where we met with manager Garth Simpson.
At the upscale mall, a team of four associates were equipped with new mobile devices that also act as registers. The devices receive an alert each time an online order is placed. The merchandise is then gathered from the store's inventory and then shipped via UPS (UPS) to the customer. Shipments are delivered within two days (the only time frame available; prices vary by location).
Simpson pointed out that the program is limited to basic apparel, including shoes, lingerie and outerwear. An expansion to more categories, said Simpson, would require an increased number of associates at the store level.
There is also a greater "depth of ownership on key holiday items," said Simpson. This means there will be more merchandise in the store that have proven to be big sellers so far this year, such as St. John's Bay and Nike apparel. Last holiday season, J.C. Penney was still restoring inventory levels in classifications the consumer wanted to buy, such as private label St. John's Bay, which was removed from the store as part of former CEO Ron Johnson's bid to make the retailer more upscale.
"We brought back key item basics and popular private brands that customers wanted, while editing out unproductive brands that weren't resonating," said CEO Mike Ullman on J.C. Penney's fourth-quarter 2013 earnings call, highlighting the changes the business was undergoing during the holiday season.
Simpson pointed out many of the differences during TheStreet's tour of the store earlier this week. Employed at J.C. Penney for 18 years, the manager has climbed through the ranks of store associate and survived the failed tenure of former CEO and Apple (AAPL) executive Johnson.
Here is what else TheStreet found that will be different at J.C. Penney this holiday season vs. 2013.
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