JCPenney Takes a Bet on Nike Amid Department Store Struggles

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. has enlisted the help of athletic giant Nike Inc. in a bid to boost growth by ramping up its presence in the hottest category in fashion right now.

The department store chain said Tuesday it has partnered with the brand to expand its activewear assortment and create Nike shop-in-shops in more than 600 JCPenney stores.

Nike is immensely popular across all categories, and with the rapid rise of activewear and athletic shoes, we want to have the best expression of Nike in any department store,” said John Tighe, chief merchant for JCPenney, in a release.

JCPenney said it has dedicated a 500-sq.-ft. space in a prominent location within the men’s department for the new Nike shops, which boast “pumped-up visual elements” and “crisp signage” to help shoppers locate the brand’s popular wares. (The company added similar visual elements and offering will also be found in select stores for women and kids.)

JCPenney is an activewear destination, and by partnering with a perception-shifting national brand like Nike, we can deliver both the performance and athleisure products that customers want,” Tighe said. “Shoppers browsing our new Nike environments will be both inspired and motivated to take their athletic wardrobe to the next level.”

JCPenney’s announcement comes just days after the company and its peers Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. revealed dismal holiday sales, signaling ongoing weakness in the department store sector.

In response to consumer shifts toward e-commerce and athleisure trends over the past two years, department stores have moved more resources online and also ramped up their athletic assortment. Macy’s and Nordstrom, for example, have both made aggressive digital moves in recent months, as well as followed through with layoffs and store closures as they redirected resources toward omnichannel. Meanwhile, Bergdorf Goodman has added Puma and Kith to its product offerings, while Kohl’s ramped up its athletic assortment, announcing a mega-deal with Under Armour last year.

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