Regardless of who is right, the company does have room to right itself, says one marketing expert. J.C. Penney is having troubles, but "that doesn't mean department stores in general aren't. Macy's is doing very well," says Barbara Kahn, director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. J.C. Penney occupies a unique niche, she says, as a department store appealing to a slightly lower-income and older audience than stores such as Macy's. Aiming squarely at bringing back that audience will be necessary, she says, but the company may have to do it quickly.
A new earnings report due out Aug. 20 could show whether the company has enough cash to buy itself some time while it pushes forward. Better returns ahead of this fall could provide important indications about the company's health, Kahn says.
"Back to school is a really big season for department stores," she says. "If they don't do well at back to school, that's clearly not a good sign."