why the gap doesn’t get it

Did you know that the Gap–oh, excuse me, that’s just GAP–isn’t doing so well financially? And that it hasn’t been for some time? The parent company, Gap Inc., has been struggling to raise both its profile and stock price, but it still hasn’t found success. You can make Audrey Hepburn rock out Lazarus-style all you want, but that’s not enough to make people want to shop there. And here’s why:

1. Gap has an identity crisis
Can you name the target Gap customer? I can’t, and Gap can’t either. Look at its progression over the last few years. Gap used to be about jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, basics. Then, back in ’01 or so, it tried to follow trends by knocking off Marc Jacobs and other hippish contemporary designers. But what sells big in Nolita doesn’t sell in Dubuque, and Gap soon tried another tactic: selling toward teenagers! Around ’04, Gap was filled with kooky prints, loud colors (remember the failed “everyone in color” campaign that tried to push us into lime-green pedal-pushers?) and fits for shoppers who hadn’t yet left puberty. Now we’re on to… Audrey Hepburn! With… AC/DC! Not only does the current campaign fail to woo shoppers who love Hepburn (the words “pimping a beloved actress’ image” come to mind), it fails to be timely. “Back in Black” hasn’t been cool in, uh, 20 years.

2. Shoppers care about ethics.
At least, they do more than they used to. A Gap short-sleeved t-shirt, made in Indonesia or some other foreign country where workers are paid pennies for their labor, costs $16.50. A short-sleeved tee from American Apparel, made in Los Angeles (albeit under the lecherous eyes of Dov Charney), costs $14.00. So why would you ever pay more money for a garment made in an ethically questionable manner?

3. The clothes are… zzz…
Season after season, Gap tries to convince us that it’s promoting something new and exciting. But it’s not. It’s still shilling the same old boring khakis and French blue button-front shirts. Every time I walk into Gap, I know what I’m going to find, and none of it is even mildly exciting. (The irony, of course, is that when all you want is a simple black sweater, you will not be able to locate one). For a look at a “basics” shop that manages to feel fresh, consider Muji. Is anything at Muji super-fancy or cutting-edge? No. But it’s all well-tailored and the styles mesh well with whatever’s stylish that season. And they don’t bleat on and on about NEW MUJI COLLECTION FALL 06! the way Gap does.

4. Only idiots pay full price at Gap.
Gap loses money because it rolls out more products than necessary. I’ve never, ever paid full price for something at Gap, because I know it will be marked down in about two weeks. Other shoppers are just as wise to the Gap pricing cycle. If Gap were smarter, it would release four seasonal collections that would go on sale only at the end of the season–the way stores such as Zara do it.

I could go on (lousy fit, too much selection), but these four reasons pretty much sum it up for me. I’ve bought one thing at Gap in the past two years–a silk neck scarf marked down to 97 cents–and after visiting a Gap on Friday, I can’t say that I’m missing anything. Until the store can come up with a smarter pricing model and a stronger brand identity, it’s going to continue to lose shoppers to stores that have both.


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