Gap Inc.’s plans to leverage the success of Old Navy — as well as test a new, smaller format store — across its other brands is the latest move by a major retailer to attempt to recapture lost consumers.
Moreover, these efforts — which increasingly focus on offering shoppers better values on trend-right merchandise — reflect a seismic shift in the retail landscape, which is forcing retailers to reinvent themselves as sales and profits plunge.
In its most recent quarterly report, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for example, posted results that showed the mass retailer sputtering while close competitor Target Corp. is making investments to improve its online offerings for bargain hunters seeking trendy goods. Macy’s Inc. has joined Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom Inc. in rolling out an off-price model (Nordstrom now has more Rack stores than full-line stores). Entrenched off-price retailers Ross Stores Inc. and TJX Cos. Inc. recently posted a 5 percent increase in quarterly same-stores sales as other companies wobble. Meanwhile, full-price specialty retailers continue to struggle save for a few exceptions such as American Eagle Outfitters Inc. The real action, though, has occurred at fast-fashion companies like H&M, Uniqlo and Zara.
These changes reveal how consumer behavior is slowly evolving — some of which is due to broader economic factors such as a redefinition of the middle class. But there’s also a shift occurring in tastes and attitudes. Economists and analysts are increasingly saying that people want to spend less on “things” and more on “experiences.” When they do spend on things — especially apparel — it has to be fashionable and inexpensive, which brings it back to Gap’s focus on Old Navy.
Art Peck, chief executive officer of Gap Inc., said on a call to analysts Thursday that Old Navy’s same-store sales growth, which has outperformed the Gap and Banana Republic brands, is being delivered by Stefan Larsson, global president of Old Navy. Peck said the aim is to “transport” the processes that make Old Navy work so well and apply it to the company’s other brands.
Larsson cut his teeth at fast-fashion retailer H&M, and Old Navy’s comps have shown consistency since he joined Gap in 2012. Is a fast-fashion model the medicine Gap needs to turn around its entire business? And does that include rolling out smaller-store formats even as competitors like H&M and Zara open bigger stores?
Peck said Old Navy will be testing a new format. “I’m not quite sure of the timing yet,” Peck said, “but certainly within the course of the calendar year.” Peck went on to say that “store size is a big opportunity for us in terms of opening up smaller, more productive real estate spaces where we otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be able to open a store.”
Although the ceo didn’t elaborate on the initiative, it’s clear that Gap is focusing on being more nimble and responsive to changes in the retail landscape. And the retailer has to as consumer preferences change.
On the conference call, Peck said there is a concerted effort in ironing out issues relating to “product processes” — as Gap calls it. These processes have to be rebuilt, the ceo said, with a push toward making the supply chain work faster. “Old Navy has been running on a shorter pipeline for a while, and Gap is developing on that pipeline as we speak,” Peck said. “And then there is the trend process, the assortment architecture, the supply-chain capabilities, a number of other things as well, which we’re layering in.”
Time will tell if these efforts are going to pay off. From an investor’s perspective, shares of Gap have been struggling, and have not moved far from their 52-week low of $35.46.
In a research note from Telsey Advisory Group, the retail analyst team has Gap Inc. pegged with a “market perform” rating. The analysts said in their research note that “we continue to believe that improvement in the Gap brand is needed for the stock to show upside, a prospect that appears to remain nearly a year away when management expects the assortment to be on brand and back on trend.”