Gap Rediscovers E-Commerce Playbook, A Little Late

By Thomas Lee
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Retail consultant Alicia Hare says that for Gap to survive, it needs to figure out what its brand means — or should mean — to today’s shoppers. She says, saying it sells fashionable clothing at affordable prices is not enough to break through the clutter.

San Francisco Chronicle

People like to say later is better than never. For Gap Inc.’s sake, let’s hope that’s true.

The San Francisco apparel retailer, which also runs Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta, has struggled to increase sales over the past few years, forcing it to close stores and rethink its position in a fast-changing industry. I previously wrote that Gap was heading toward bankruptcy if it didn’t make some big changes to its business model and culture.

I’m happy to say that we’re starting to see some of those changes, at least on the cultural side.

Consider how a group of tech startups recently visited Gap headquarters to demonstrate innovations in merchandising, supply chain management and mobile apps.

The startup founders, who built their companies in the new XRC Labs incubator in New York, spoke to top executives and employees throughout the company.

This might not seem like a big deal, especially in the technology-obsessed Bay Area. But given Gap’s history of insular family ownership and management, inviting tech startups to its headquarters amounts to a sea change in how it sees the world.

Mainly, that the world is bigger than Gap.

“By nature, our bias is to do things by ourselves,” Sebastian DiGrande, Gap’s executive vice president of strategy and chief customer officer, recently told me. “It was very awkward or odd for us to think about collaboration on the customer-facing side.”

The XRC Labs event “is a very unsubtle attempt to start shifting culture,” DiGrande said. “For sure, my mission is to bring a different mind-set, a different sense of speed, a different sense of what it means to test and learn and to be willing to not necessarily fail but to learn from things that don’t work.”

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