Bucking an Industry Trend, JCPenney Shutters Its Clothing Subscription Service

The men's subscription box lasted less than 2 years

JCPenney launched its clothing subscription service in partnership with Bombfell, a men’s clothing subscription box. Getty Images
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Going against a growing trend in retail, JCPenney announced today that it will shutter its less-than-two-years-old clothing subscription service, the company confirmed to Adweek.

According to Reuters, the move comes in order for the storied mall brand to focus on apparel and appliance sales, the latter of which it is phasing out as well.

JCPenney launched its clothing subscription service in partnership with Bombfell, a men’s clothing subscription box similar in concept to StitchFix, in December 2017. The service offered items from both JCPenney’s private label as well as national clothing brands. One of Bombfell’s stylists would select five items to be included in each box (which came at the cost of a $20 styling fee that could be applied to the price of any items kept), and recipients could choose to keep any, all or none of the items. The boxes were focused on men’s big and tall clothing.

The box will officially end its run on the first of March, according to the blog Chubstr, which first reported the news of its impending shutter. Customers were informed of the decision in mid-February, two weeks before it was set to close. They were encouraged to seek out the products on JCPenney’s website instead.

The move is something of a surprising decision from JCPenney, considering the fact that subscription boxes just like these have become an increasingly popular option for retailers seeking to find news ways for customers to engage with their brands. It was perhaps hoping to mimic the success of companies like StitchFix or Trunk Club—both of which offer a similar service to the one JCPenney and Bombfell did—with monthly arrivals, all curated by a personal stylist.

JCPenney and Bombfell’s focus was a bit more niche, solely on men’s clothing and in particular, the big and tall category. Menswear was a bright spot for the brand, which may explain why the partnership existed in the first place: “Men’s apparel outpaced the company comp with particular strength in big and tall, active and seasonal categories,” Trent Kruse, JCPenney’s head of investor relations, said on an investor call last November.

Clothing subscription services have been one of the industry’s most exciting innovations. And it’s one that several traditional retail companies have taken advantage of over the past year in a number of formats. On the heels of the success of Rent the Runway, clothing rental subscriptions have become a popular trend, with Express, Ann Taylor and New York and Company starting such programs within the past two years. Even Amazon has launched its own iteration, Prime Wardrobe, which allows Amazon Prime members to “try before you buy,” loading up a box with three to eight items, and then returning the ones they don’t want without being charged for them.

The failure to embrace e-commerce and its many methods of purchasing has been the kiss of death for many retailers, but JCPenney’s experimentation with subscription services shows that not all new methods work for legacy brands.

As the company watches one of its biggest competitors—Sears—declare bankruptcy and struggle to keep its doors open, it’s no surprise that the retailer is trying new options to prevent itself from facing the same fate. Its shares are trading at just $1.55 as of press time, and it’s facing $4.5 billion in debt.

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.