Kohl’s and JCPenney are both struggling a bit.

JCPenney said it plans to close 27 stores in 13 states this year and reported a 9% same-store sales decrease for the second quarter of 2019.

To critics, JCPenney represents a lack of specialization when it comes to the consumer.

“JCPenney hasn’t created an experience that solidifies a place in consumers’ shopping habits,” Kathy Gersch, the executive vice president of the consultancy firm Kotter, told Business Insider’s Mary Hanbury in May 2018.

Read more: We went to Kohl’s and Target and found they were both a mess. Here’s why I’d shop at Target anyway.

Kohl’s is doing slightly better.

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The company reported in its second-quarter earnings that sales dropped by 2.9% in stores open for more than a year.

Nine out of 10 Kohl’s stores are in suburban strip malls rather than enclosed shopping malls, so declining foot traffic in malls hasn’t affected the chain as strongly. The retailer’s recent partnership with Amazon to accept returns for the e-commerce giant in its stores also helped boost traffic by nearly 24% in its first three weeks, according to data from InMarket.

We shopped at both stores and saw similar issues in each, such as messy displays, outdated merchandise, and eclectic and overwhelming products. However, the measures Kohl’s has taken to boost traffic online and in stores made it clear why it is outperforming JCPenney.

Here was our experience:


First, we stopped by a Kohl’s in a mall in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Right away, we were notified of the store’s “buy online, pick up in store” policy, which caught our attention. This seemed like a great move for people who don’t have much time to browse.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We also learned about the Kohl’s app, which the company says lets customers save while they shop.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Later in our journey, we would also find a kiosk to help shoppers look up and order Kohl’s products online.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Kohl’s sells everything from clothes to kitchen appliances. The store provided trendy carts while we shopped.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We first checked out the women’s section, which was boasting attire for every occasion.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

The women’s section was pretty large, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that everything on display was blatantly out of style.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

It was hard to find anything that looked like it fit in a current fashion trend. This two-piece Vera Wang pajama set was pretty dull — and it cost $56, which seemed absurd.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Still, we did find some good sales throughout the section. There was a “buy one, get one 50% off” sale for Vera Wang sleepwear.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

In the kid’s clearance section, we found a whole lot of mess awaiting us. Racks were overcrowded …

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

… and merchandise seemed to be spilling on the ground everywhere we looked.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

This table of shoes was bursting with boxes and styles for kids, but it wasn’t appealing to look at.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Still, the offerings were hard to complain about here. We did stumble upon this cute “Fortnite” sweater for kids that was originally priced at $40 but on sale.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

The aisles were also punctuated with disorganization. It wasn’t rare for us to stumble into a cart carrying merchandise.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There were massive shoe sections for women, men, and kids, with pretty standard options, from everyday shoes to formal ones.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There were a lot of brand-name shoes, like Nikes.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

In the sports-attire department, there was an entire section for Under Armour, an athleticwear company that has had a bit of a hard time winning over the North American market. We also found some clothes from Nike and Adidas downstairs later on.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


Moving on, we made our way to a section full of kitchen appliances.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Here, we found everything from blenders to vacuum cleaners.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We liked the different kitchen displays that highlighted Kohls’ partnerships with cooking brands.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

The appliance section was a huge part of Kohl’s, and we were overall pleased with the offerings here.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

And the home-goods section was a pleasure to behold, as the shelves were orderly and well stocked with darling items meant to beautify a house.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

A lot of the items here were on sale, which made the selection even more attractive.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

This scented-candle display was slightly lacking, but the home section at Kohl’s was strong overall — one of the strongest sections of the store so far.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There was also a nice section of toys and games for kids that featured everything from Legos to sidewalk chalk.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We found some red lockers near the back of the store reserved for shoppers who had ordered items online and were picking them up in the store.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Being in a mall makes declining foot traffic a difficult issue for stores like Kohl’s to navigate. Luckily, Kohl’s has a secret weapon via its partnership with Amazon to let people drop off Amazon returns in the store.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


The small station is a brilliant move by Kohl’s and has increased store traffic by as much as 24%, according to data from InMarket.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


Nearby, we found a nice luggage section …

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

… as well as a station with Fitbit wristbands near some backpacks.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Downstairs, we found some handbags and the men’s clothing department, as well as some more women’s clothing.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

The items here were pretty standard, and a lot of them, again, felt woefully out of style. Overall, the messy store and out-of-style offerings at Kohl’s might have contributed to the company’s drop in sales. But the in-store add-ons and unique partnership with Amazon seemed to be giving the store a leg up over its competitors.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Next, we stopped by a JCPenney in the same mall, just a short walk away.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We started our journey on the second floor, which included sections for jewelry, accessories, and men’s and women’s clothes and shoes. Like at Kohl’s, we first walked into the women’s clothing section, which was rather similar to the one at Kohl’s.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Nothing really jumped out at us here, but we did notice some options that seemed somewhat stylish, like this wraparound yellow top for $37.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There was a sizable collection of formal eveningwear in JCPenney, but the options looked like they were catering to a slightly older demographic. We also noticed that a lot of items were on sale.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

But some things were still expensive. This two-piece maroon evening gown was listed at $120.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

In the shoe department, we found a large supply of Nike sneakers, as we did in Kohl’s.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

For many pairs of shoes, there was a “buy one, get one 50% off” deal.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Moving on, we found a large jewelry section that had everything from earrings to necklaces.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There were also a lot of stylish watches that were 25% off for people with the JCPenney credit card.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

One of the more interesting features of JCPenney was this in-store Sephora — a partnership designed to increase foot traffic. When we were there, it was pretty empty.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


In the sports section, we found items from a bunch of major athleticwear companies, including Nike and Adidas.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We found a well-stocked plus-size section at JCPenney, with mannequins modeling the offerings.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We hadn’t seen such an obvious section for plus-size clothes in Kohl’s, so this was definitely a win for JCPenney.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Elsewhere, we saw a mannequin missing its hands …

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

… as well as some legs that seemed to be missing their pants.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

The clearance section was clearly marked with flashy yellow signs that let us know we’d be able to find good deals. Nothing stood out to us here, but at least the area looked organized.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Some handbags were also on clearance, and though the options here were somewhat bland, the prices were definitely exciting.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

In the men’s section, we found all the basics, from swimwear …

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

… to jeans.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

This sparkly blazer for $140 was definitely not our look, but it added some vibrancy to the offerings in the store.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

The selection of graphic tees with pop-culture references was the most appealing part of the men’s section — to us, at least.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We found multiple tables with different shirts referencing everything from old movies to brands. Plus, a lot of them were on clearance.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Though there were a lot of sales, we couldn’t help but notice how empty the store felt.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We made our way downstairs to check out the home-goods, kids, and intimates sections. We started in the home section, where we found some nice dining sets, again on sale.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Nothing jumped out to us here — everything was pretty basic, and the designs didn’t excite us like the ones at Kohl’s did.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Plus, certain sections left a lot to be desired in terms of cleanliness.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

We did find some interesting pieces though, like these coffee mugs with religious overtones, going for about $7 each.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There was a large selection of decorative pillows …

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

… as well as basic kitchen appliances like blenders and food processors.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Overall, JCPenney had everything needed to fill a home, from the bathroom …

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

… to the bedroom.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

The toy section was notable for its massive collection of Disney toys from hit films like “Aladdin” and “Frozen.” The selection of plush toys was cute, but a bit disorganized.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Nearby, we found a large kids-apparel section, with a nice array of sparkly Converse sneakers.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There was also an in-store salon, no doubt designed to increase foot traffic.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There was also a portrait center for people to get headshots or family photos.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

Like Kohl’s, JCPenney offered the option to order items online and pick them up in the store. We didn’t notice any handy lockers for customers to pick up their purchases, but there was a kiosk devoted to this feature.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

There were checkout counters throughout the store, but some of them were left unattended.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

JCPenney and Kohl’s have similar organization and offerings. However, the measures Kohl’s has taken to boost traffic online and in stores made it clear why it is outperforming JCPenney, whose in-store Sephora, salon, and portrait center just aren’t cutting it.

Foto: sourceShoshy Ciment/Business Insider