Will Shoppers Buy Into Gap's Merchandise Makeover?

Gap executives this week set plans to turnaround its ailing namesake stores, which include jazzing up its concededly drab clothing mix with more colorful items and prints, as it cuts 21% of its U.S. store base to focus on expansion overseas.

Product changes at Gap stores will bloom in the spring, with more "color, emotion and clear product points of view," while staying true to its "casual, American optimistic" style, the company said, in a press statement.

But is that what shoppers want from the iconic brand that helped define casual dressing in the U.S.?

A random sample of consumers across the nation cited the brand's classic, understated looks as the reason they shop the chain. They worried that the merchandise makeover might result in trendy fare that displaces the Gap's signature clean styling.

Madeline Pietschnig, 18, said she shops the Gap for its "simple, modern styling that's not too flashy," preferring the outlet stores to the full line stores since they're less pricey.

While Pietschnig likes Gap's plan to add more colorful clothing to the mix, she'd like the changes to end there. "I hope they don't become one of those sell out stores, with the animal prints and flashy rhinestones on clothing, like Forever 21," she says.

Pietschnig might be in for a disappointment.

The retailer has introduced to its stores skinny jean leggings with animal and snake prints, which have been a hit, Art Peck, president of Gap North America, told Reuters during a store tour.

It's precisely those young, hipster looks geared toward a model's proportions that have turned off Paulette Stout, 43, a grant writer from Acton, Massachusetts.

"They went for that teenybopper look, they went heroin chic," she said, noting the rail thin, androgynous look popularized by runway models in the 90s.

Gap went "overboard" with items like skinny leg jeans. "Not everyone is going to wear a size zero," she says. "When you create a line like that, you're telling a lot of people, 'I don't want you to shop in my store.' I used to shop there all the time, but they pushed me away."

Amy Gifford, 52, still manages to find clothes she likes at the Gap.

"For the stuff I'm looking for, I don't find it drab," says the health care professional from Washington D.C. They offer "versatile styles that you can dress up or dress down, and it's good quality."

The longtime Gap devotee recently purchased t-shirts, and what has become a favorite, smokey gray wool cardigan in a classic cut she couldn't find anywhere else.

While it remains to be seen how Gap will hold on to its classic aesthetic while spicing up the mix, they'll have fewer stores to worry about stateside: The retailer will shutter 189 units by the end of 2013.

Shoppers were surprised that Gap will be closing so many units. "They're really doing that bad?" Pietschnig said.

Ann Fischbach, a retiree from Manhattan who shops the Gap for "sporty" looks and polo shirts, had heard the news about the store closings and wondered how many would shutter in New York City. Not too many, she hopes.

"Wow," said Gifford, when told about the number of stores set to shutter. "It's sad. They're an American institution."


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I Clem

Funny, this year about 75% of my shopping as been at Gap lol (with a little Banana Republic whenever they have a sale). I used to be a big Express shopper but I'm not really a fan anymore. I love the jeans, khakis, and sweaters at Gap. They offer good casual or dress up looks and I can mix and match the pieces. On any given day I can throw on the jeans and a button-up and still look nice. For a date or night out I can 'dress up' with the sweaters and khakis.

October 17 2011 at 9:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Krisca

Yes it is time to escape, you can live anywhere in the world you want to live, South America, Central America, or Hawaii, or anywhere you want. How? Very easily, all you need to do is learn the SECRET that I teach for trading Oil and you can easily make $200 to $5,000 per day, more than enough money to live anywhere you want to live, as long as there is the Internet. Come over to my website "Oil Trading Academy", learn the SECRET, and start a new life, or enhance your current one.

October 17 2011 at 2:31 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Krisca

Yes it is time to escape, you can live anywhere in the world you want to live, South America, Central America, or Hawaii, or anywhere you want. How? Very easily, all you need to do is learn the SECRET that I teach for trading Oil and you can easily make $200 to $5,000 per day, more than enough money to live anywhere you want to live, as long as there is the Internet. Come over to my website "Oil Trading Academy", learn the SECRET, and start a new life, or enhance your current one.

October 17 2011 at 2:31 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Howard Jacobowitz

The problem with the Gap is that it is run like a DISCO. When I want to shop with my wife I cannot hear a word that she says due to the blasting music. Learn from Target and Costco that play NO music and their sales are the highest.

October 17 2011 at 12:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Gary

I am an older guy so I guess they don't really market to me. But I was younger once and years ago I liked the styles and quality. I think both are now lacking. Jazzing up colors won't help.

October 16 2011 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lisa

I was in a Gap yesterday and it was like shopping at Walmart. The stuff is crap. None of it was quality work.

October 15 2011 at 5:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
frank1946

Big Expensive Stores are in decline. Expensive Real Estate and high margin Inventory spell trouble !

Funny, Old School Downtown Storefronts seem to be BACK !

Efficient Newcomers like Kohls seem to be a better Plan !

October 15 2011 at 7:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
PaulHJones

Many years ago I shopped at all of the Gap Inc. stores. At that time the stores had their own fashion identities.

The Gap sold a large selection of quality designer jeans. If you wanted a causal but sophisticated jean look the Gap probably had what you wanted.

Banana Republic offered trendy clothes that meshed well with Causal Fridays. You would never have felt improperly dressed in clothes brought from its stores. The tropical and khaki look of Banana Republic’s clothes attracted droves of young preppy fashion conscious shoppers.

In my opinion Old Navy has never targeted a particular shopper or sold clothes that could entice a wide range of shoppers. I always believed that Old Navy attempted to cater to shoppers who wanted low quality and cheap clothing. This marketing strategy put Old Navy into an untenable position of having to sell clothes that no one really wanted except for bargain hunters.

In a recent interview Art Peck, President of Gap North American, admitted that the Gap Stores sales have been dismal over the last few years. Industry experts had sounded the alarm that Gap stores had lost their marketing identities. Mr. Peck acknowledged that Gap stores had confused buyers. Offering a more colorful line of clothing will not bring back shoppers. Unfortunately for the Gap stores other better managed clothing retailers have siphoned away many of its customers. The Gap stores have almost no room to maneuver to improve its market share. Expanding operations into China and Chile might be a tacit admission by Gap Inc. management that they cannot turn around national sales. The game may be over.

In my opinion Gap Inc. must take drastic action if it is going to remain a major player in the retail clothing business. Old Navy should be spun off. Gap Inc. should reduce its real estate footprint by closing many of its Gap stores and lay off the corresponding workers. These measures would free up sufficient cash to allow Gap Inc. to invest in revamping its clothing lines and undertake a quality advertising campaign. With fewer stores to operate Gap Inc. could invest in making their stores more attractive esthetically to shoppers.

Time is not on the side of Gap Inc.

October 15 2011 at 12:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to PaulHJones's comment
Lisa

Wow dude you sure put a lot of thought into that comment. Go have a beer or something! Lighten up!

October 15 2011 at 5:04 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
savemycountry911

Michelle may as well have bought her gown at Target. Don't call me racist. I really like Herman Cain.

October 14 2011 at 10:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply