NEW YORK (Reuters) - Department store operator J.C. Penney Co Inc is launching a website for teenagers as part of its effort to drive demand in the key back-to-school season, after months of sales declines.
Penney, like rivals Macy's Inc, Kohl's Corp and even higher-end chains such as Saks Inc and Nordstrom Inc, has taken a hit in the recession, which has dampened demand for new clothes and home goods.
This year, Penney is trying harder to reach web-savvy teenagers who shop for themselves in the back-to-school period but may have less money to do so this year.
The back-to-school period is second only to the year-end holiday season in terms of sales for retailers.
The company's Chief Executive Myron "Mike" Ullman said in June that its website serves as a powerful means to communicate its in-store promotions.
Penney's website, jcp.com/teen, consolidates "microsites" it already had for brands like Decree and Arizona, with newer ones such as RS by Sheckler, after skateboarder Ryan Sheckler, said Chief Marketing Officer Mike Boylson.
Overall, Penney is spending a bigger share of its marketing budget online, including its Facebook page, and letting teenagers sign up to get text messages with discount offers.
While Penney did not give marketing budget details, a prior regulatory filing showed Penney spent $331 million on direct-to-consumer advertising, which includes Internet advertising, in 2008.
This year, an average family with children in kindergarten through grade 12 is expected to spend $548.72 -- 7.7 percent less than last year -- on school products, a National Research Federation study conducted by BIGresearch showed.
Moreover, the department store sector posted an 8.5 percent decline in June same-store sales, ThomsonReuters data showed, with analysts expecting little respite ahead.
Boylson said he expects strong back-to-school demand in its flagship Manhattan store, slated to open on July 31.
Penney shares closed at $26.67 on Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman; Editing Bernard Orr