Penney ups the ante on impulse gifting

AP Retail Writer (AP) ? J.C. Penney is upping the ante on impulse holiday gifting, with plans to carve out areas on the main floor dedicated to gifts from the whimsical to the practical.

The “Wrapt” shops, which will first be launched in its Manhattan store this week, followed by a national rollout in all 1,100 stores on Oct. 24, will carry about 300 items, mostly exclusive to J.C. Penney. They range from $3 chocolate candies from Dylan’s Candy Bar to $40 mini speakers that plug into Apple’s iPads or an iPods.

J.C. Penney will still sell holiday gifts throughout the store, but the expanded grab-and-go area is a first for the retailer.

“Our customer is pressed for time. We wanted to pull it together for her to make it easier,” said Jan Hodges, Penney’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s accessories. “This won’t overextend her budget. These are impulsive gifts. We are creating a wow factor.” She added that the shops aim to attract existing shoppers to spend more at the chain but also should grab new shoppers.

Shoppers are still splurging on affordable luxuries, but scrimping on basic household items like cleaning products and clothing basics. For instance, J.C. Penney Co. says its Sephora beauty shops have done well along with its trendy exclusive products, but sales of more humdrum clothing have been more challenging.

J.C. Penney’s biggest obstacle is still the economy because if its middle-income shoppers, the same people who are feeling the pinch from rising costs and worried about their jobs. They are trading down to less expensive stores and brands.

Shares of the Plano,Texas department store chain rose 2.5 percent to $26.78 in late trading.