The following story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the J.C. Penney statement.
TheStreet reporter Brian Sozzi is visiting a dozen key retailers on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to assess their performance during one of the biggest shopping events of the year.
At four J.C. Penney stores in the New York area, visited from 6:00 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving, shoppers were snapping up non-door-buster apparel and blitzing the ladies' shoe department.
"It just feels busier," said a J.C. Penney employee, comparing this year's Black Friday experience to last year's. The employee preferred to remain anonymous.
And this employee could be on to something. The company issued a statement about Black Friday sales, suggesting the department store retailer is doing better than expected this year.
"We saw a strong surge of customers visit J.C. Penney beginning at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving," said CEO Mike Ullman in the statement, adding, "I'm encouraged by our results thus far."
J.C. Penney expects fourth-quarter same-store sales to increase by 2% to 4%, following a 2% gain last year. The statement did not update guidance.
And unlike last year, J.C. Penney's home department was attracting shoppers, likely reflecting better-arranged sections and lower prices on private-label housewares. In the fourth quarter of 2013, J.C. Penney's CEO Mike Ullman said that gross margins in the home department were down "materially" as the company aggressively discounted slow-moving merchandise bought by former CEO Ron Johnson. J.C. Penney's home department accounts for about 11% of its annual sales.
J.C. Penney has 1,060 stores in operation, most of which are "cash-flow positive," said to CEO Mike Ullman on the third-quarter earnings call.
The first day of the holiday shopping season is a big day, but it's just one day. But all signs so far point to J.C. Penney having a strong fourth quarter.
J.C. Penney's Black Friday Scorecard
Number of stores visited: Four
Location: Long Island, N.Y.
Times visited: 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., Thanksgiving Day
Bag size (Big bags means big items which mean more money for the retailer) Large and included items other than door-busters in apparel and home
Crowd size (How big are the crowds): Consistently large, with the home department and Sephora makeup sections as bright spots.
Staff size (Is there enough staff to handle the crowds): Checkout lines moved well, with appropriate number of staff on the sales floor offering assistance
Too much stock (Overstocked on key items): Levi's denim, athletic wear, men's suits and dress shirts
Desperate promotions (Discounts too big compared to competitors): Nothing too irrational for the start of the holiday season.
Crowds line up to buy at a Long Island J.C. Penney.