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Guess what? JC Penney is now ahead of the curve

To all you department store critics who argue these "dinosaurs" are all the same, boring shops that give you no reason to get off the couch: J.C. Penney hears you loud and clear.

On a call with analysts following its mixed first-quarter results, which sent the company's shares lower, CEO Marvin Ellison outlined how the retailer is positioning itself to connect with a new era of shoppers, whom many argue are no longer interested in visiting department stores.

That strategy includes lessening the company's dependence on weather-sensitive categories such as apparel, and beefing up its offerings in areas that can't easily be replicated online or duplicated by others in the space. Namely, Penney is expanding its Sephora shop-in-shops, accelerating its InStyle beauty salon rollout, and pushing forward with its tiptoe into appliances.

Beauty products are a key initiative for driving store traffic because cosmetics can't be tested online, not to mention that it's impossible for a computer to give you a hair cut. Beauty items also require frequent replenishment. As for appliances, Ellison argues consumers don't care what the thermometer reads when it comes time to purchase a new stove or refrigerator, which will help protect the company from wild weather-related swings.

Penney's changes come as sales at department stores...