Today I'm in Chicago, and I stopped in at at the Gap flagship store on Michigan Avenue. Plenty of customers were looking around because the sandwich-board sign outside said "New Items on Sale". I was curious, too, trying to figure out what I would do to turn around the brand if I were in charge.
The woman who greeted me informed me that the men's section was on the second floor. I got on the elevator and the button panel said men's was on three. It was wrong. I got off on three into Body Gap. So I waited for a down elevator.
As soon as I got off, a salesperson asked what he could show me. I said chinos, slim fit. He immediately corrected me and said what I wanted were khakis. He told me they had wonderful new colors. Trouble was, they weren't in one place. The khaki ones were here, the olive ones over there, the grey ones back here, and the light blue ones a few feet behind the olive ones. He reminded me that Gap sizes run big, and then vanished.
When I did have a question (why the sign said "Everything here $22 or less" and these pants were marked $54), there was no salesperson within sight. I went over to the registers, and the woman agreed to come and look. She said the sign was meant to be very general. I told her no, the sign is very specific. $22 or less. She said what the sign meant to say was that many things in that section were $22 or less, but not all. She decided I was a crank and drifted back to her register.
I did choose a sweater to buy as a gift, and there was a long line at the register. When I got there, I wanted to be sure the sizes ran a little big. The cashier said definitely not; Gap sizes are accurate. I asked if I could return it in San Francisco if it didn't fit. She said she couldn't see why not.
I can see why not. Everything seems a little jumbled, a little out of control at the Gap. My fashion marketing students could get in there and straighten everything out in an afternoon. They could tell the Gap what it needs, how to accomplish it, and how to win customers back. But the Gap isn't run by merchants these days, and I'm not sure they'd understand. What they're doing is a lot like the joke about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The Gap isn't the store of the future, because the future isn't what it used to be.