J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) has come a long way since the depths of 2013, when many pundits were assuming the company was just months away from bankruptcy court. Since then, the struggling department store retailer has managed to stem the tide of sales losses and, in its most recent quarter, actually post same-store sales gains and an expansion of its gross margins. Despite this progress, the company has a long way to go in what will likely be a multiyear turnaround --assuming it is successful in returning to profitability. As if that weren't enough, J.C Penney may find itself faced with an even greater challenge in the years ahead: irrelevance.

As Motley Fool consumer goods analyst Sean O'Reilly explains, even if J.C. Penney manages to mount a turnaround, its greatest challenges may be waiting around the corner thanks to several initiatives being put forth by its top competitor: Macy's (NYSE:M)

Sean O'Reilly owns shares of J.C. Penney Company. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.