Khadeeja Safdar reported in the Wall Street Journal this week about CEO Art Peck's efforts to turn around apparel retailer The Gap. According to the article, "The Gap Inc.'s market value has shrunk to about $10 billion, from roughly $40 billion at its 2000 peak. Revenue has stalled at about $16 billion—flat from a decade ago." The Gap owns several retail chains (including Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy).
The article points out that, "The 61-year-old CEO is blunt in his criticism of the industry’s long fascination with creative executives who are given broad powers to set the overall image of a brand. 'We have cycled through so many, and each has been proclaimed as the next savior,' he said. In the end, they were 'false messiahs.'" Peck favors combining science with art. He hopes analytics can help drive better merchandising decisions, rather than relying on the intuition and foresight of powerful creative directors for each brand.
I would argue that no amount of focus on analytics can save The Gap, particularly its namesake brand. The company has a strategy problem first and foremost. That problem has to do with the competitive positioning of the three brands. Each major brand does not have a distinctive competitive positioning. Moreover, the Gap brand is clearly stuck in the middle, trapped with an ambiguous strategy somewhere between the low cost position at Old Navy and the differentiated position at Banana Republic. That problem has existed for more than a decade. Until the company solves that problem, no amount of reforms in its merchandising process can save this once-iconic brand.
Moreover, as the article notes, the Gap has failed to adapt to the fast fashion strategies of competitors such as Zara. The Spanish retailer has developed a completely different strategic positioning and unique value chain. Copying one or two elements of Zara's strategy will not suffice. Zara is successful because of the entire system of activities and choices that they have made. The Gap has made a vastly different set of choices, and they have undertaken quite different activities. Adapting the Gap's value chain to fit the new competitive environment will be very difficult.