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2007.01.24

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Coleen

I went to the mall over the weekend, and both Gap and the Express were closing. I'd be interested to know how much if it is because the mall is on its last legs, or because both of these brands have been suffering and need to consolidate. (Or, of course, both.)

The Gap is nothing but cheap clothes for an exorbitant price. It's sad, really; I remember in grade school, everyone wanted the jean jacket, and now I don't know a tweener soul who would be caught dead with that iconic blue shopping bag.

Lisa

They used to have excellent clothes, that's the pisser. I wore their jeans pretty faithfully from 1986-1995, and I loved being able to head into the store and pick up things. Now? You're right -- it does feel cheap. And since Old Navy has that angle covered ... so why bother with the Gap?

The thing is, in every story, I see this whole "Well, you can't grow on basics" sentiment. And I wonder why not: these clothes don't last forever. Even on a t-shirt, the style changes over ten years -- fit (close or loose?), sleeve cut, neckline, etc.

Also, never underestimate the power of repeat-buys and replacements.

First example: I loved the two Lands' End cashmere tees I bought last year that I went out and bought three more this fall. For a shopper like me, it was a no-lose: the product's a known quantity, I like it, why not expand the collection?

Second example: I wore my first J. Crew barn jacket into the ground (1990-1996) and my second (1996-?) is on its last legs. I would love to buy a crisp new replacement but now? It apparently comes in only one color, and I don't want brown. If they offered this sucker in other colors, I'd be all over it, because I'd be like, "I know the style, I know how the retailer fits on me, let's go."

Frankly, both companies should be grateful for customers like me, as I'm not even LOOKING at price in either case -- just the experience of buying a product I like with no hassles. Repeat and re-stocking customers are like that. Why not cater to them?

drunken monkey

For the "Well, you can't grow on basics" sentiment, I'd instantly toss out American Apparel as a counter-example. Yeah, it's hipster basics, but they make a good t-shirt and it comes in approximately 97 colours -- all of which are available year-round. I have one of their tanks in six colours, because when I needed new tanks, they fit, they were of better quality than Old Navy's and I could by them all in one place. I know that next summer I can walk in there and pick up three more of that style off the rack, without having to try them on. Isn't this how The Gap used to make its money? Go in for khakis, come out with two other things?

I like the idea of switching some Gap stores over to F&T -- change over the bigger ones, focus on that chain and the more-established Old Navy and Banana stores, and then make The Gap a smaller basics-focused chain like AA, skewed a little older. People know they're going to Old Navy for trendy, cheap items. They know they're going to Banana for higher-priced career wear. Give them a reason to know why they're going to The Gap again. The kind of cover-all-bases approach they're taking only works if you've got cheaper price points like H&M, I think.

(the other) molly

I have EXTENSIVE opinions and experience in this arena, and what I ultimately think is hurting (ok, killing) Gap is that it's so big that they are not in the retail or sportswear businesses, they are in the real estate business, and they have SO MANY product categories that one or two wunderpants won't help anything. I agree that you can't grow SOLEY on basics, because basics don't bring new customers through your doors. But it is equally true that NO retailer can meet their plan unless they have KEY CATEGORIES in which their customers are buying multiples. The math just won't work, for any retailer at any price point. Finding that magic mix of fashion and basics is hard...and it worked for Mickey because at the time, the basics WERE fashion...the plain white shirt was on the cover of Vogue; we take for granted how ubiqutous chinos are now, but back then, there was only a hint of 'business casual' so those basic khakis WERE a trend. My personal prediction? That Gap sells off BR and acquires a home brand, like Restoration Hardware.

Jecca

I know it's unoriginal, but I just have to say: The Gap is irrelevant. Why on God's green earth would I even set foot in the Gap when I can shop at Old Navy and get cute clothes that don't cost $75 or at Lands' End and get well-made basics? I wandered through the Gap a while before Christmas and couldn't even tell what any of the clothes were, really. Nothing made me venture within 10 feet of the wall units, and I didn't pick up a single thing. I knew it was all overpriced, wouldn't fit, and would be weirdly ugly in the process of trying to be trendy. And overpriced. Overpriced, poorly made garbage.

(Whew. I feel better.)

April

I wish the Gap would add proper plus sizes. I'd sure spend money at a store I could shop in WITH my skinny friends.

Lisa

My personal prediction? That Gap sells off BR and acquires a home brand, like Restoration Hardware.

Well, Williams-Sonoma is currently flailing. Hello, Pottery Barn!

Molly, thanks for weighing in. You make a great, great point with this:

NO retailer can meet their plan unless they have KEY CATEGORIES in which their customers are buying multiples.

Can you elaborate on the difference between, say, "basics" and "key categories." Is there a difference on the industry side?

Alice

I don't go into GAP often anymore, but I used to have a friend who worked at the London head office, so got 30% off friends & family vouchers every once in a while.

It may be me imagining things, but it seems to me like GAP has changed their sizing recently. I used to be able to buy any T-shirt in an XL, and be sure it was going to fit and look reasonably good. I was in a store in BC on Boxing Day, and found a cute t-shirt for $10. I was going to just buy it, figuring that it would fit because I knew the sizing at GAP, but my mom made me try it on. Sure enough, it didn't fit right at all.

I agree with Drunken Monkey - being able to pull something off the rack and not even needing to try it on because you KNOW it will fit is hugely appealing. It saves time and makes me more likely to buy multiple items. GAP, what's up with making yourself unpredictable? It's made me steer clear.

drunken monkey

I think they've definitely changed the sizing, Alice. I wear the same size pants at The Gap now that I did four years ago, and I was ten pounds lighter four years ago. They also mess with how their jeans fit on a regular basis, which seems like a huge no-no. You don't take away a woman's favourite jeans -- they seem like one of the best items to get multiple buys in, and they've got a higher price point than a t-shirt.

Also, if this is true, it strikes me as rather stupid on The Gap's part, given the success of guest designer lines for stores like Target and H&M.

Rustybelle

Gap used to be the only place I could get jeans that fit me. I used to buy two or three pairs at a time because I knew they'd fit and the quality was good enough for the price. So of course they stopped making the style I buy.

In the UK we only have Gap (I think, I've never see an Old Navy or Banana Republic) which is all things to all people, i.e. career clothes, cheap/trendy and everything in between. I used to love going to Gap as a one stop shop but lately there's been nothing worth buying. I still pop in every so often but it's more of a nostalgia trip than to buy anything. And to be honest Uniqlo has much better quality for lower prices.

Becky

Old Navy has also become my go-to for staples (t-shirts and button downs) that fit me well, don't change the sizing all the time, and hold up surprisingly well for the price. The Gap sizing is on complete crack lately (I own clothes from them in every size ranging from 0 to 6, and I'm not that tiny), and all my clothes from them have shrunk in bizarre ways.

Are the sales for men's clothes at the Gap suffering as much as the overall sales? My husband has been getting his staples there (jeans, sweaters, button-downs) for years, and they don't seem to be futzing around with the style or quality that much.

drunken monkey

I wondered about their kids and maternity clothing. For some reason, I think Gap doesn't separate those out, but I don't know why I think that.

hannah

I can definitively say the difference between the Gap and Old Navy maternity clothing lines is solely price, and also that purchasing either has been the number one annoyance on my maternity clothing shopping journey. The retail experience, either in stores or online, is completely unpleasant, and the actual clothing is gross. (Why would I want faux fur lining a sweater hoodie? Or anything with sparkles? I am a pregnant lady, not a hoochie.) I have probably wished J. Crew did a maternity line five times a week for the past 32 weeks. You know you are struggling, a a basic clothing retailer, when Target AND K-mart(!) are more reliable.

(the other) molly

Can you elaborate on the difference between, say, "basics" and "key categories." Is there a difference on the industry side?

Key Items usually refer to units -- at the retailer I work for, a key item is something that we are buying at least 300k of, per season/delivery...like, a key item pant that flows through several seasons can sell a million units (but not to a million different people, that is the key - she needs to come back for more, or buy two at a time, etc) whereas a 'basic' refers more to styles...basic tees, etc...those items are ones that we will probably always carry, but they still may not be bought into as deeply as a 'key item' -- think breadth vs depth, I guess. Does that help? And I should add that my experience is soley with verticle retailers (including Gap) that are VERY merchant driven -- dept store businesses and stores that carry other brands or are on the other end of the spectrum and are largely design-driven (think A&F, J Crew, Club Monaco) probably have a differnet experience than I do.

laura

I went to my local mall with $100 bill from my Christmas stocking-- not a lot, but not so little that, with after-Christmas sales I shouldn't have been able to find the basics-with-flair that I wanted. (Big wish list-- a white turtleneck I could layer or wear alone, and new black pants for my business casual workplace.) In years past, I have relied on the Gap for those kinds of things and this year? Nothing I even wanted to try on, and those two basics? No depth of sizes available (even in non-marked down items,) NOTHING like that in the sales area, and $100 couldn't have gotten me both a white top and a pair of black pants that I liked. Sorry, but we are pretty average folks (median income and median priced home- we even spent the average median amount on our car and our Christmas shopping!) So, maybe I am not what the GAP wants to sell to... still. I can see why they are failing.

I have gotten a lot of items at Old Navy but they just don't wear as well (and their sizing *is* all over the place.)

So, instead of GAP I am shopping the Land's End section of Sears.

I have noticed that the GAP Outlets I go to (in Foley, AL and in Williamsburg, VA) are always busy and always have things that I want at prices I want to pay. Often the merchandise is not the same as regular GAP. Perhaps the larger square footage allows them to stock those basics, and that is the difference. I have not noticed a big difference in wear or quality yet on items purchased at the GAP Outlet with the "Outlet" tag in them.

Lisa

Laura -- the Williamsburg outlets! Oh my gosh, my mother used to drag me to those back for shopping all the time back in the early 1980s. This was before they acquired the stylish patina most outlet malls have today.

Lisa S.

You know what? This is my number-one spam hub. Time to close comments. Sorry, Internet, for the spam-propagating dicksmacks who ruin everyone's fun!

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