Head out to Piperlime.com and you will find a new footwear e-tail concept that makes no pretenses about where its allegiance lies. The title bar clearly states "Piperlime.com by Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS ) ." Even the landing page, with limes growing out of a boot, pulls no punches in letting you know who its sugar daddy is:
Hi there. We're Piperlime, a fresh online shoe shop by Gap Inc.
The store won't officially launch until next month, but it began taking orders this week. Taking a page out of the Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) playbook, the retailer is opening with a pretty good gimmick -- it guarantees free standard shipping, as well as footing a second shipping bill if you want to return your shoes within the first 60 days.
Even though some of the Gap concepts have dedicated limited shelf space to footwear in the past, this is the company's first entry into running an exclusive online shoe store. You won't be trying on Old Navy loafers or Banana Republic hiking boots at Piperlime. In a departure from the company's apparel strategy, it's relying on established third-party brands to populate its new venture.
Banking on leading makers like Roxy, Charles David, and Ben Sherman will serve it well initially, but that can't be the ultimate goal. You can pick up Charles David pumps at your local shoe store or at rival online storefronts like 6pm and Zappos (which also covers shipping costs both ways). Even the discounting mavens at Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK ) have a few marked-down models of Charles David footwear at the moment. Gap's real advantage here is its client base, which it can nudge over to Piperlime, and that's a pretty big deal given the company's seasoned pedigree and breadth.
They'll come. They'll buy. In time, they will learn to do some comparison shopping to price the competition. It's at that point when Gap will hopefully be able to have its own exclusive offerings in the mix. You can't undersell yourself in that situation. Despite Gap's stumbles in recent years, I wouldn't undersell Gap's chances of making this work, either. The audience is there. The online acumen is there. The bare feet? They're there, too.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't much of a shoe shopper, but his wife can get lost in a DSW. He does own shares in Netflix. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.