J.C. Penney Says That Sales Aren’t As Terrible As They Used To Be

Shares rose after the department-store company said comparable store sales fell by only 4% in September.

J.C. Penney, the department-store company that has had a rough go of it the last two years, had some good news to report today.

The retailer issued a statement saying it’s “making solid progress in its turnaround,” with sales at stores open at least a year falling just 4% in September, an improvement from the decline in August. That follows a precipitous 26% plunge in the three months through Oct. 27, 2012. J.C. Penney also said online sales are up about 19% so far this quarter, showing the retailer is recovering some ground from the ugly 37% plunge in internet revenue in the third quarter last year.

Within the September sales, women’s clothing, J.C. Penney’s largest business, posted positive sales, the company said. Customer-service scores are also at an all-time high, it said.

“Reconnecting with our customers starts by having the merchandise they want and expect from J.C. Penney and finishes with an exceptional experience when they shop with us,” CEO Mike Ullman said in today’s statement. “With inventory restored to the appropriate levels, we are in stock in the key items and brands she expects to find during every visit. At the same time, our marketing will continue to capitalize on the compelling value we offer, including the sales and promotions our customers love.”

Ullman has been working to undo changes made to J.C. Penney by ex-Apple retail chief Ron Johnson, who was ousted from the department-store company in April after a disastrous tenure. Ullman, Johnson’s predecessor, has added back stock of popular private labels such as St. John’s Bay and Stafford and reinstated sales and coupons to get customers to return. He has also halted expensive renovations to turn J.C. Penney stores into a collection of boutiques.

Still, the CEO surprised Wall Street by selling 84 million shares of stock to raise $785 million in cash last week, sparking anger among investors and analysts who didn’t see the move coming.

J.C. Penney shares rose 4% to $8 this morning in New York. The stock closed at $19.71 at the end of last year.

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