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If GAP were a boyfriend, he would be the really needy, cloying type always wanting affection and reassurance; like me, need me, want me… Like Oy Vey grow a pair. Everyday, every other day, in my inbox is an email from GAP, 40% off, 35% off, 30% off code, 40% off duo deal and extra 10% off. Such has been the trend for the past several years from the retailer, so much so, I cannot remember the last time I paid full price for its merchandise. Fact. So it comes as no surprise when it was recently reported that the retailer is not hitting its numbers. GAP, like Marks and Spencer and those other high street once upon a time giant, is struggling in this much evolved, fast paced retail world we find ourselves in today. So what’s the problem?
There is always a sale, an offer, a reduction… not that I am complaining but you have to wonder, especially when it posts losses, how a retailer intends to deliver its bottomline when it is forever slashing price? That behaviour does not show confidence in its product for one, and it’s a problem. For years GAP has been stuck in rots of all kinds, style rot, aesthetic rot, competitive rot etc. and the root of this problem is that the retailer has failed to grow with its customer. Whilst we love those simple easy pieces, we also appreciate trend led fast fashion pieces for a wardrobe that functions and looks good, something to pep up the day to day and GAP has been unable to fill that gap, so to speak, and keep up with our growth and so we leave it behind and move on to the next retailer who can.
Retail 101- As consumers we are fickle, fashion consumers are the ficklest of the kind, like magpies we swarm to shiniest thing and work it until it loses its shine and we move on to the next. Its a terrible trait but this is what retailers count on us for the most, Battle of the Vanities so to speak, turning that popular phrase, but to keep us you have to keep shining. GAP has lost that shine.
Retail 102- As consumers we do not know what we want until you show it to us and make us believe we always wanted it. Its how we justify spending £700 plus on Mulberry handbags and Louboutin shoes. Consumers aspire to shine the brightest, wear the classics but stand apart. We want to be wooed, but GAP does not woo us. It couldn’t even take us out to coffee for a first date much less dinner and dance.
This is a tale of a relationship gone stale but we are in the stage of trying to fix it, only it might be too late.
From a consumer’s perspective, the problem with GAP is simple; it’s basic. From its basic tees to its basic dresses. Basic by style, by look and aesthetic. Basic by definition, modern definition that is, is for something or someone to be significantly unremarkable at anything whilst believing it is or they are. And GAP for the past few seasons has been pretty basic. Some seasons it is able to inject a bit of personality into its aesthetic, but it is often hindered by that basic hand it wields, much like that uncle who douses himself in cologne to attract the ladies or that aunt at the wedding desperately trying to be cool. I used to be a GAP loyalist, at one point, a fanatic, I was that consumer who got sucked into the hype and nostalgia of its ad campaigns, SJP made me run out and buy those khakis I never wore, seeing Maya Angelou in the ad campaign created an affinity for the brand in a way most couldn’t and renewed my loyalty to it. Until I’d go to the store only to be greeted by a sea of basics and beiges. Not even the beige that pops. Can beige even pop? It doesn’t compute, like another cliché, a lover who sounds perfect on paper and then you meet them in person and you’re like, ‘oh. Ok.’
GAP didn’t always used to be this stale, and its clothes didn’t always used to be this bland. When it was founded in 1969 it had its consumer pinned down to a science, hipsters and baby boomers, the jean was just as rebellious in that era, a middle finger to the conservatism of Nixon and a clap back to Mod swinging London. But then somewhere along the way, that expansion got railroaded with the generation of the baby busters and MTV. GAP stumbled in its step and it found itself out of sync with the rhythm of its consumer. There was a revolving door executives- Mickey Drexler, came in and offered a focal point of view, growing the brand into a global retail giant and for a long time it worked, GAP was back on the list of our trusted brands, much like denim and Levis, (sorry I still don’t own a pair of Levi jeans. I am a terrible person). But when a slump in sales hit, Drexler was shown the door. There were years of peaks but they were few and far between, the decline has continued. The appointment of Patrick Robinson saw some life back injected back into the brand amid store and restructures, GAP grew internationally, but growth and restructure of a retailer means nothing if the product fails to make an impact on the consumer.
Competition did not ease up. Retailers came for a bite of GAP’s apple and left with a bushel. H&M, Primark fast food of fast fashion, and Zara, the retail boy wonder with its Céline-esque pieces and astoundingly successful formula no one has been able to imitate. One in three women shop in Zara, three out of five handbags on a morning commute to work is from Zara. Zara is on the lips of every one and the envy of many fashion houses, high fashion and contemporary brands alike.
I have never seen such a collection of basics in one retailer in all my shopping life. Grey, blues, greens and in backgrounds that do little to lift or pep. Its the same style, the same cut, the same colour, the same muted tones, as if its afraid of something different. Dull and uninspiring. Whilst the basics are the bread and butter, actually not anymore, but whilst GAP is known for its basics it wouldn’t hurt for it to have serious fashion led pieces each season that will give it some ground to stand on with the competition. GAP will always be my first go to for denim, its the only place on the high street where curvy jeans actually fit a curvy butt without the danger of crack on show or cutting off blood circulation. But woman shall not live in jeans alone, but in pretty dresses for the spring and summer and distinguished styles in the autumn and winter and COLOUR! Bloody hell give us more colour other than these unimaginative prints and tiresome patterns. Even the models never look like they are having any fun.
Retail 103- The first priority for a model of any retailer is to make the buyer believe their lives will be just as fabulous if they buy that garment, get there just in time if they wear that watch, find the perfect guy if they spray on that perfume… even if we know the odds, the aim is to sell a fantasy that makes us want to invest in the brand. These GAP models don’t. Not even partnerships with Stella McCartney or Kate Spade will do that if you don’t invest in the DNA of a brand. Case in point, the ad for rompers- does this say summer to you? Who in their right minds will want to wear this ludicrous shade anywhere in the summer? You won’t even wear it in your home much less outside the door!
Forego the big name hires that come with their fanfare and invest in a solid team of designers, there are brilliant fashion graduates all over the world seeking jobs, shake things up from the root to the branches, look at your pricing, if you have to keep slashing to sell then chances are you don’t expect your consumers to pay full price in the first place which is never a good sign. Do something. Do anything. Do everything and see what sticks, its better than doing nothing. At times it feels like GAP is afraid and consumers can sense that fear which breeds no confidence. Look at Hedi Slimane’s trashy collections for Saint Laurent, he took apart the house and moved it into a place we didn’t even recognise, but his convictions made the brand money. Never mind that it was all basically, trash. Gap needs that. Confidence, not the trash.
As a consumer I still hold out hope for GAP, so maybe this relationship of ours can be salvaged, therapy, counselling, whatever it is, that change has got to come from somewhere, and it has to happen quickly if there is any hope of a reconciliation.
For now, relationship status; Taking a break.