Gap departs high street as prime store locations left stranded by high-speed retail revolution

image Shutterstock/Petra Figueroa

Yet another familiar fashion retailer is about to disappear from the British high street. The once-mighty Gap is the latest brand to pull down the shutters.

Following in the footsteps (and depleted footfall) of Debenhams, Topshop, and so many others, Gap’s move to online-only selling is further evidence of the accelerating change in consumer direction – away from physical stores and onto our screens.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Until 2008, the US company, which also trades the Banana Republic and Old Navy brands, had been the world’s largest fashion retailer. Back then, it relinquished its position at the top of the tree to Zara’s parent company, Inditex, and the years that followed have not been easy.

Over the past decade, sales declined as it sought to maintain an appealing mid-market product range at the right price. Gap came under more pressure from lower-priced fashion competitors – such as Primark – and rapidly growing online competition.

In the UK, Next remains a confident online leader, while the likes of Amazon and Asos have increased their share of the market. Smaller specialist fashion retailers such as Boohoo have done notably well out of the pandemic as shoppers were forced to get their fashion fix online when non-essential shops were closed.

Boohoo’s acquisition of defunct high street brands such as Dorothy Perkins and Oasis, as well as other brand partnerships and diversification into the beauty sector, will further add to that company’s appeal.

In addition, the younger consumers who might have formed a new generation of Gap shoppers are turning elsewhere. Not only to e-commerce but to social commerce conducted on social media, which allow pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase chat and entertainment. These consumers can even become active participants in buying and selling fashion items through sites such as Depop and Vinted.

All these developments point to a rapidly changing fashion retail environment.

However, while in the US companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target have seen significant growth during the pandemic, others, including Gap, have found the online trading environment more problematic. Gap’s online business, which will continue in the UK, is not considered a big player and was unable to make up for the lost business from the stores.

Generation gap

But a more profound problem is perhaps brand identity and position in the fashion market. For while brand awareness among consumers is likely to remain high, Gap probably falls down in terms of being a favourite store or providing an excellent experience. In its core ABC1 market, newer entrants have found success with more focused and aspirational offers, and more appealing retail experiences.

Brand touchpoints – where a customer comes into contact with the brand – which integrate online, mobile and physical store channels, have become much more important. New technologies to personalise consumers’ shopping experiences and developments with augmented reality and virtual reality devices point the way to a more distinctive and innovative future.

Empty Regent Street in London. The pandemic hit the high street hard. Shutterstock/JessicaGirvan

Gap has not really addressed these trends in the UK. A successful sales and marketing formula based on a broad range of clothing for all ages at reasonable prices over many years is difficult to change – as other mid-market retailers, such as Marks & Spencer, have found.

Location creates a further problem. At this stage in the pandemic, retailers are beginning to assess new formats and different locations. As consumers have returned to shopping more locally, so retailers are looking at opportunities for smaller stores in more convenient places. In particular, they have started to explore ways of integrating stores with their online operations throughout the shopping experience.

Gap’s prime store locations with their inevitable high rents and business rates contributed significantly to their costs, while restricting their ability to try new ideas. Maybe it was an inevitable move to close shops and focus on its online business.

But it will be in the company of many others. And as consumers become more aware of sustainability and ethical issues in fashion production and consumption, perhaps the time has come to welcome new thinking about fashion and a different type of shop.

About The Author

Anthony Kent, Professor of Fashion Marketing, Nottingham Trent University

Recommended books:

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty. (Translated by Arthur Goldhammer)

Capital in the Twenty-First Century Hardcover by Thomas Piketty.In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, says Thomas Piketty, and may do so again. A work of extraordinary ambition, originality, and rigor, Capital in the Twenty-First Century reorients our understanding of economic history and confronts us with sobering lessons for today. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature
by Mark R. Tercek and Jonathan S. Adams.

Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature by Mark R. Tercek and Jonathan S. Adams.What is nature worth? The answer to this question—which traditionally has been framed in environmental terms—is revolutionizing the way we do business. In Nature’s Fortune, Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy and former investment banker, and science writer Jonathan Adams argue that nature is not only the foundation of human well-being, but also the smartest commercial investment any business or government can make. The forests, floodplains, and oyster reefs often seen simply as raw materials or as obstacles to be cleared in the name of progress are, in fact as important to our future prosperity as technology or law or business innovation. Nature’s Fortune offers an essential guide to the world’s economic—and environmental—well-being.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it -- by Robert B. Reich

Beyond OutrageIn this timely book, Robert B. Reich argues that nothing good happens in Washington unless citizens are energized and organized to make sure Washington acts in the public good. The first step is to see the big picture. Beyond Outrage connects the dots, showing why the increasing share of income and wealth going to the top has hobbled jobs and growth for everyone else, undermining our democracy; caused Americans to become increasingly cynical about public life; and turned many Americans against one another. He also explains why the proposals of the “regressive right” are dead wrong and provides a clear roadmap of what must be done instead. Here’s a plan for action for everyone who cares about the future of America.

Click here for more info or to order this book on Amazon.

This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement
by Sarah van Gelder and staff of YES! Magazine.

This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement by Sarah van Gelder and staff of YES! Magazine.This Changes Everything shows how the Occupy movement is shifting the way people view themselves and the world, the kind of society they believe is possible, and their own involvement in creating a society that works for the 99% rather than just the 1%. Attempts to pigeonhole this decentralized, fast-evolving movement have led to confusion and misperception. In this volume, the editors of YES! Magazine bring together voices from inside and outside the protests to convey the issues, possibilities, and personalities associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement. This book features contributions from Naomi Klein, David Korten, Rebecca Solnit, Ralph Nader, and others, as well as Occupy activists who were there from the beginning.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

You May Also Like

New Attitudes - New Possibilities | | | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.