JC Penney ($JCP) shares continued their years-long plunge this week as investors continue to distance themselves from the 117-year old retailer, fearing it could be drawing closer to bankruptcy or liquidation. Meanwhile, hiring and foot-traffic trends tracked over the past few months paint an even darker picture. While JC Penney is moving forward with modern digital strategies like in-store pickup, it may be too late for the retailer.

Hiring activity down 12% and reduced workforce

Hiring at JC Penney appears to be sliding year-over-year. From its pre-holiday peak in 2018, the company has 12% fewer job openings posted online. 

It comes after years of store closures; JC Penney operates 15% fewer stores today than it did in 2016, according to a comparison of the company's annual reports to investors. The same reports reflect JC Penney has only reduced headcount 9.5% from 2016 to 2019. JC Penney recently said it plans to shutter about two dozen locations in 2019, with more on the way in 2020. However, the company operated 864 stores as of February 2019, so more locations could soon be permanently closed. 

Waning foot traffic

In the beginning of 2019, foot traffic at JC Penney began to lose steam as measured by Facebook’s ($FB) Were Here Count, or how many check-ins and mobile device location shares brands have over time. After just marginal increases in 2018, as our chart reflects, this engagement began to slow down even further. There are other retailers that saw foot traffic stall, or fall, and after they reported earnings shares fell, or at least underperformed the market as a whole. 

There are other alternative data metrics investors can use to determine how long a JC Penney location will (or won't) remain open. We'll be back with a rundown of data before the company's next earnings report. 

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