February 5, 2014, 9:05 AM

J.C. Penney grows annual web sales for the first time in years

The retail chain’s online sales grew 7% to nearly $1.1 billion, according to an analysis of Penney’s 2013 quarterly earnings and data from Top500Guide.com.

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J.C. Penney Co. Inc. ended 2013 with a big increase in fourth quarter e-commerce sales. That jump in web sales in the final quarter helped J.C. Penney, No. 34 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide, finish 2013 with its first growth in annual web sales in years.

J.C. Penney won’t release its final year-end numbers until Feb. 26, but in a brief earnings update released yesterday the company says that for the first time since 2011 comparable-store sales increased 2%. The retailer also noted that in the fourth quarter web sales for JCP.com increased by 26.3%.

Based on that metric, earlier e-commerce sales disclosed in J.C. Penney’s quarterly earnings reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and an analysis of e-commerce sales data from Top500Guide.com, Internet Retailer estimates:

  • Total web sales increased 7.4% in 2013 to $1.095 billion from $1.020 billion in 2012.
  • Fourth quarter web sales increased 26.3% to $397.8 million from $315 million in the final quarter of 2012.
  • The increase in annual web sales is the company’s first since 2011 when web sales grew year over year 3.9% to $1.59 billion from $1.53 billion, according to Top500Guide.com.

“While 2013 brought a lot of change and challenges to J.C. Penney, the steady improvements in our business show that the company's turnaround is on track,” says CEO Myron Ullman.

Although not giving a lot of detail, the rebound in web sales can be tied to actions such as bringing back more private-label merchandise to JCP.com as well as its physical stores, ongoing site improvements, and returning more inventory that can be fulfilled from Internet distribution centers or select stores, Ullman told Wall Street analysts on the company’s third quarter earnings call in November. “The success of JCP.com reflects the reintegration of store and online buying, planning, and allocation, and improving our merchandise assortment and in stock levels across sizes and styles,” Ullman told analysts. “We have reconfigured many of our user interfaces to make it even easier to shop.”

While web sales in the first two quarters of 2013 dropped 12.0% to a $432 million from $491 million, web sales for the next two quarters rose 25.5% to $663.8 million from $529 million. On the third quarter earnings call Ullman told analysts he expects JCP.com to continue to grow. “Behind our third quarter results is important progress in areas that are critical to our long-term success, including merchandise assortments, marketing, home and the growing strength of JCP.com,” Ullman told analysts.

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