Allie Nelson compared her shopping experiences at Macy’s and JCPenney.
Both Macy’s and JCPenney are anchored in malls across America, but the stores offer very different shopping experiences.
People shop at a shopping mall during Black Friday in Arlington, Virginia
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Since 2015, Macy’s has remained the leading US department store, with $24.23 billion in sales during 2021.
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Macy’s was founded in 1858 and is known for selling accessible designer brands like Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, and Coach. The chain currently has 510 locations in the US.
A Michael Kors display in Macy’s.
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Source: Macys, Inc
On the other hand, JCPenney was founded in 1902. The midscale chain has 667 stores in the US (including six in Puerto Rico), but struggled to survive the pandemic.
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Source: JCPenney, Insider
This led JCPenney to close more than 150 stores between May and September of 2020. The company ultimately filed bankruptcy that same year.
One of the many JCPenney locations closed in 2020.
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After JCPenney filed for bankruptcy, Simon Retail Group — the real-estate-investment trust with malls and shopping centers all over the US— purchased it.
Shoppers walking through a mall.
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In mid-November, during the height of Black Friday deals, I went shopping at the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst, New York, to compare Macy’s and JCPenney (Simon Retail Group does not own Queens Center mall).
The street entrance to the Macy’s located in Queens Center mall.
I found the Macy’s logo more attractive, due to its playful addition of the star and distinct font.
One of the mall’s entrances to Macy’s.
Meanwhile, I found JCPenney’s logo basic and to the point. Even the storefront decorations were less interesting.
One of the mall’s entrances to JCPenney.
The clothing displays in JCPenney lacked decorations, looked dull, and felt bare. The lighting felt dark as well.
The women’s section in JCPenney.
At Macy’s, however, the displays looked trendier and the mannequins had cooler poses. Also, the brighter lighting made it easier to shop.
Mannequins in a Macy’s clothing section.
Macy’s went all out and had holiday decorations added to most of its displays. The better holiday decor at Macy’s made the overall shopping experience more pleasant.
One of Macy’s many holiday clothing displays.
Although JCPenney’s Black Friday deals were clearly marked, the items didn’t feel very trendy and I couldn’t picture myself wearing them, especially without mannequins to highlight possible outfits.
A selection of clothing for sale at JCPenney.
Macy’s also had clearly marked Black Friday sales, with an extra 20% off for Macy’s credit-card holders.
Dress pants on sale at Macy’s for Black Friday.
But even with 30% off, a pair of Tommy Hilfiger dress pants at Macy’s was $60. The dress pants I found at JCPenney were $55 without the Black Friday discount, which brought them to $30.
The price tag for a pair of dress pants at Macy’s.
Macy’s had some sweaters for $29.99, but that price felt expensive when compared to similar items for $17.99 and under at JCPenney.
Holiday sweaters on sale in the women’s section of Macy’s.
After a while, I found an area in JCPenney with attractive clothing, better decor, and good lighting. However, the racks and tables were laid out in a strange pattern.
A different part of the women’s clothing section at JCPenney.
JCPenney also had ample signage to point out different departments and brands, but, again, most of the styles and displays didn’t look trendy.
The Liz Claiborne display at JCPenney.
The designer brands at Macy’s were much more attractive and fashionable to me, but the prices were a lot higher. Some brands, like Calvin Klein, didn’t even appear to be on sale for Black Friday.
A Calvin Klein women’s clothing display at Macy’s.
To my surprise, JCPenney had some holiday dresses that were colorful, sparkly, and on trend — plus they were clearly marked 50% off. I could picture myself wearing one of the dresses for New Year’s Eve.
The holiday dress display at JCPenney.
Macy’s also had a great selection of holiday dresses, but It was unclear how many were on sale because the displays weren’t as well labeled as JCPenney’s. I hesitated to shop the section in case I fell in love with a dress I couldn’t afford.
The holiday dress section at Macy’s.
JCPenney’s shoe display was chaotic. Different styles and sizes were crammed together, meanwhile some shelves were just bare.
Scattered shoes in JCPenney.
Macy’s definitely had the better shoe display. It was sleek, clean, and pleasing to the eye with great lighting and a layout that really showcased the shoes. Too bad many shoes cost more than $100.
Macy’s shoe section.
It was quite the journey to find the women’s fitting room at JCPenney — the sign was so small. The attendant offered to help once I got there.
A JCPenney women’s fitting room.
I had an easier time finding the women’s fitting room at Macy’s — and it was a lot more attractive. The attendant was also more helpful, offering to get customers different sizes.
The fitting room in the women’s section at Macy’s.
Macy’s had price-check stations throughout the store, which is especially helpful when looking at sale items. I didn’t see any of these in JCPenney.
One of the price-check stations at Macy’s.
I’m 5-foot-4 and wear a size 6. I found two pairs of good-looking jeans at JCPenney on sale for only $15 each— the regular price was about $50.
Two pairs of jeans on sale at JCPenney in the fitting room.
I searched to see if I could find any jeans at Macy’s that were close to the prices I found at JCPenney, but I only saw some frumpy $15 sweatpants.
A Black Friday deal on sweatpants at Macy’s.
Macy’s had some cute holiday displays and goods. However, the hot-chocolate bombs were $22 and no sale price was listed. Similar items were on sale at JCPenney for $12.
The hot chocolate bomb holiday display at Macy’s.
The Hickory Farms display at JCPenney left something to be desired, but the price was a steal. The original price for a seasonal collection was $60, but on sale it cost $24.
The Hickory Farms collection found at JCPenney.
Macy’s had way more checkout areas throughout each floor. There were hardly any lines or any wait time — a big plus.
One of the many checkout areas at Macy’s.
Overall, Macy’s offered more high-end items (look, a LensCrafters) and a more attractive and pleasant shopping experience, but the cost for merchandise — even on sale — was too much.
The LensCrafters display at Macy’s.
It took 15 minutes to check out at JCPenney. There were only two cashiers at 2:45 p.m. on a Tuesday and 10 people were in line. You could tell customers were getting impatient.
The checkout area at JCPenney.
But JCPenney earned my money. I purchased the $15 jeans for myself and the $24 Hickory Farms collection as a gift. The low-cost items at Macy’s can’t compete with the quality of JCPenney’s regular-priced merchandise.
The giant JCPenney sign on the outside of the Queens Center mall.