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JCPenney gets more ‘intimate’ with portfolio


Sales of women’s intimate apparel dipped 1.6% to $10.3 billion in 2007, according to NPD Group data. But retailers continue to try and boost traffic in lingerie departments.

In order to snag market share from leaders Victoria’s Secret and Wal-Mart, JCPenney is luring customers with its growing brand, Ambrielle, which launched last year. “JCPenney is in third place in market share,” said Cindy O’Connor, senior vp of women’s accessories and family footwear. “I do believe that Ambrielle is one of the reasons for the success in growth.”

The brand focuses on women between ages 18 and 44, hitting the sweet spot with the early-30s group. Situated as one of the ‘better’ brands (JCPenney categorizes products as good, better, and best), Ambrielle captures trends by offering delicate lace, smooth basics and modern essentials.

“Head-to-toe looks are very popular in ready-to-wear [apparel] and it makes sense that intimates follow suit,” said Jayne Mountford, vp of trend reporting for Stylesight. “That means for the current season we are seeing yellow, orange and cobalt blue, plus bright multicolors for prints.” Other trends include no-seam synthetic knits, sheer and synthetic chiffon and lots of lace. Full coverage bras and panties, often with a high waist and vintage styling, become necessities as dresses and skirts dominate the fashion scene, added Mountford.

In order to appeal to its customers, JCPenney is working with 16,000 brand advocates who are certified in bra fit for Ambrielle and national brands. Its goal is to make sure that women of all figures find the right product. Other efforts include an online community of about 1,000 Ambrielle customers that interact with the marketing and design teams with feedback about the brand.

It’s not surprising then that the brand expanded into Ambrielle Woman this month. “We identified that there is a need for a true full-figure brand that covered 38C to 44DDD,” said O’Connor. JCPenney considers its full-figure apparel business with national brands a very important aspect. Hence, offering intimate apparel for this group is only a natural step to ensure one-stop shopping.

Additionally, the company last February launched a teen and young woman-oriented private brand, Flirtitude, aimed at the 15- to 25-year-old age group. When it comes to design, the brand is on par with Victoria’s Secret’s Pink, aerie by American Eagle Outfitters and Target’s Xhilaration. Young women are looking for fun intimates apparel and this means comfortable designs and bright colors and prints. JCPenney understands that if the department lacks a youthful category, the customer is a step away from an alternative.

The intimates department at JCPenney is not slowing down when it comes to building its brand portfolio. O’Conner alluded to the development of a new private brand that will fill the ‘best’ spot.

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