JCPenney Names Karl Walsh Chief Digital Officer

The challenge of returning J.C. Penney‘s digital channel to growth now lies on the shoulders of ecommerce veteran Karl Walsh, who joined the department store chain as its chief digital officer effective Monday, the company said today.

Walsh has more than 18 years of ecommerce experience and was previously the chief digital officer at jewelry purveyor Pandora. His other stints include leading Boston Consulting Group’s U.S. consumer ecommerce and digital practice, and serving as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. He will report to Shawn Gensch, the company’s chief customer officer.

“Nearly 90 percent of shoppers begin their path to purchase online, so Karl’s background of building and executing digital strategies for global brands will help us improve our ecommerce offering and drive traffic across all channels,” said Gensch in a statement.

Indeed, Walsh’s role in developing JCPenney’s digital platform is part of the company’s broader goal of returning to profitability and growth. JCPenney declined to provider further details about the appointment at this time.

The struggling retailer hopes to reverse its fortunes under CEO Jill Soltau, who took on the role over a year ago. There are signs her plan may be working. Despite reporting in mid-November a third quarter decline in comparable sales, the company revised its outlook for EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) upwards. JCPenney now expects to generate adjusted EBITDA of more than $475 million during fiscal 2019 versus the prior forecast of $440 million to $475 million. EBITDA is an indicator of a company’s financial health as it measures profitability before accounting for expenses such as interest and tax payments.

In regards to ecommerce, the retailer said in August after the end of its second quarter that it continued to strengthen its integrated omnichannel strategy in order to return its digital channel to growth, according to SEC filings. In the first quarter, for example, JCPenney said it removed over 300,000 units of “unproductive and unprofitable vendor fulfilled merchandise from its website.”

JCPenney also said in its second quarter report that it is improving navigation and presentation, while “curating” the assortment to provide an easier shopping experience across all platforms, including desktop, mobile and its app.

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