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Economy Briefs: Penney cuts 600 workers, 13 percent of HQ staff

- - Thursday, April 5, 2012

NEW YORK

NEW YORK Two months into J.C. Penney's transformation, its workers are starting to feel the pain.

The midpriced department store chain said Thursday that it has laid off 600 workers, or 13 percent of the staff at its headquarters in Plano, Texas, as the company looks to streamline its operations amid a major renovation of the business.

Penney also will eliminate 300 more jobs at its customer call center in Pittsburgh when it closes the center July 1.

The moves come as the company's new CEO, former Apple Inc. executive Ron Johnson, is transforming every aspect of Penney's business, from pulling back on constant promotions to rethinking the brands it carries.

"We are going to operate like a start-up," said Mr. Johnson in a statement issued Thursday that didn't cite specific job cuts. "We are going to be nimble, quick to learn, quicker to react and totally committed to realizing our vision to become America's favorite store."

Mr. Johnson, who became CEO on Nov. 1, said the cuts involved "some very difficult decisions" but were essential for the business.

The company had hinted that layoffs would come when it told investors in late January that it planned to reduce layers of management at its headquarters. The company had said then it was targeting $900 million in expense cuts to be completed over the first two years of its transformation. That included $200 million in savings from its corporate headquarters as well as $400 million in cost savings in store operations and $300 million in advertising savings.

CALIFORNIA

Google to nix e-book sales via independent stores

MOUNTAIN VIEW Google is ending a program that allowed independent booksellers to offer e-books from its online store.

In a blog posting Thursday, Google digital publishing director Scott Dougall wrote that the program hadn't "gained the traction" the company was hoping for. Beginning Jan. 31, the search engine giant will sell e-books only through Google Play.

Publishers and booksellers had hoped that Google's e-book store would cut into Amazon.com's lead in the digital market. Some complained that the Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. was reluctant to promote the service, which launched in 2010.

The CEO of the trade group the American Booksellers Association told store members in an email that the association was "very disappointed" by Google's decision. But Oren Teicher says they "have every confidence" a new outlet will be found.

ILLINOIS

Britannica's halt of print edition triggers sales

CHICAGO It turns out all Encyclopaedia Britannica had to do to breathe life into the business of selling its print edition was kill it.

Three weeks after announcing it will discontinue its print editions after 244 years, people have been scrambling to buy the last of the 32-volume 2010 edition. On Thursday, spokesman Peter Duckler said all but about 800 of the last 4,000 sets have been sold for $1,395 each.

When the Chicago-based company made its announcement last month, it said sales had plummeted from a peak of 120,000 in 1990 to just 60 a week.

Mr. Duckler says since customers found out the print editions were about to disappear, they've been selling at a clip of more than 1,000 a week.

NEW JERSEY

2nd company yanking gift cards from state

TRENTON — A major player in the gift card market is the second company this week to announce it's pulling out of New Jersey rather than try to comply with changes in the state's unclaimed property law.

Atlanta-based InComm tells the Associated Press it will end ties with New Jersey on June 30.

The third-party gift card provider supplies 2,500 retail locations with cards for such brands as Visa, iTunes, Macy's and Subway.

American Express earlier this week said it had pulled its gift cards from all New Jersey retail locations.

Both companies say it's too hard to comply with a law requiring gift card sellers to obtain ZIP codes from buyers so the state can claim the value of cards not redeemed after two years.

From wire dispatches and staff reports