Gap Needs a Dope Slap

Free shipping on a commodity product in a high-competition environment? There aren't enough hands in Hong Kong to distribute the necessary dope slaps at Gap HQ.

I don't know how else to say it: Gap's (NYSE: GPS  ) new online shoe store is the dumbest thing I've heard about in quite some time. (And I follow the penny stocks, people! You know, the companies that claim they can deliver all your TV and telecom needs from a blimp?)

In case you haven't heard, Gap's idea is to hook buyers with free shoe shipping, plus free return shipping and a generous 60-day return period, at Piperlime.com. My wife, being a woman of the female persuasion, and thus an avid shoe-shopper, thought it was the dumbest idea she'd ever heard, too. (And unlike me, she's a nice person.)

But she also knows human behavior and can do math, which leads her to believe that there are plenty of folks out there willing to try out shoes for a couple months, then send them back to Gap. Let's add at least one more woe to the list: The site looks terrible in my Web browser, which suggests that the folks behind it have at least a bit of code-tweaking to do.

Whatever you think of the shipping and return problem, there are already well-known businesses operating in the online shoe arena -- Zappos, for instance, also does the shipping-both-ways thing. It's also got a 365-day return policy. Why Gap thinks it can compete here is beyond my very active imagination. Why it wants to try? That's even further out.

It pains me to say this, but this is yet more evidence, to me, that Gap is utterly broken. No style, no cachet, and now, no new ideas.

The company has paraded month after month of deteriorating sales down the catwalk. And the big, late-summer PR push that was supposed to turn the tide? We don't hear so much about that now, probably because it seems to have been an abject failure.

Everyone's eating Gap's lunch, from Tween Brands' (NYSE: TWB  ) Limited Too (NYSE: TOO  ) on the kid side to Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO  ) on the cheap end of things. Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) and its Hollister segment do great on the wrinkly high end of things, while Banana Republic's got some tough competition from J. Crew (NYSE: JCG  ) .

Don't get me started on that new Ye Olde Forthe ande Towne, or however they spell that new ladies' concept, either. The women's space is a constant catfight, with operators like Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN  ) and Talbot's (NYSE: TLB  ) clawing for customers. If Gap can't make The Gap work, why should investors believe it can thrive in this new space?

Or in online shoes, for that matter?

The conclusions are obvious to me: Gap is dangerously unfocused. Cash earnings continue to dwindle. And ultimately, I don't think shares are nearly as cheap as they might become.

Gap is both aMotley Fool Inside Valueand aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation. To take a look at the reasoning behind a call that's completely at odds with Seth's opinion, a free trial is available of the former, and a free report of the latter.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. See what he's Digging these days. Fool rules are here.


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