Just last month Gap Inc continued its expansion by finally launching European e-commerce sites for both the Gap and Banana Republic brands.  

It is puzzling that these brands and a number of close competitors have waited so long to take the step, but now that they have, the opportunities are immense. However, as a data marketer, I’m not so sure Gap is currently making the most of the multichannel opportunity.

In the lead up to the launch of their e-commerce site I made a purchase in the Oxford Street branch of Gap and was offered the chance to sign up for the ‘Gap VIP’ programme by one of the sales assistants.

This was a tempting offer; not only did this sound exclusive (an emotional benefit) but I’d also get 15% off my next purchase and 40% off another purchase made in the next three months, plus other exclusive offers (attractive financial benefit). All they asked was for my email address so it seemed like a no brainer. The only catch was that I could only redeem these emailed vouchers in-store: a great example of using online marketing communications to drive footfall into retail outlets, with the added benefits of capturing email addresses.

Eagerly, I awaited my voucher. Within just a few days I received a nice welcome email which drove me to my downloadable 15% off voucher. The voucher had a barcode and also a link to update my email preferences so they could send me offers related to relevant departments (Menswear, Womenswear, Kidswear, etc). The preferences also provided the option to share my postcode, which is good progressive registration).

Up to this point I was impressed by most of what Gap had done. However, they still hadn’t directly requested any personal information from me. For 15% off I would have gladly shared my first name at least. As a consequence, every email I have so far received from them has lacked personalisation. There’s been no: “Hi Richard here’s 15% off menswear“, which would really help drive engagement between the brand and me and is, quite frankly, what online customers expect now.

I’ve since received offers for a further 30% off (which is a pretty decent offer as high street discounts go these days!), but there’s still been no attempt to gather more information about me.  

Gap could have asked for my surname, house number and postcode, or even birthdate before allowing me to download the voucher, rather than relying on me to update this via my preferences. This would enable Gap to start capturing valuable data that could be used for future direct mail campaigns, location specific offers or even special birthday communications.

However, it is important to remember that there is a fine line between how much information you can expect a consumer to part with. The stronger the perceived value is for the customer, the more likely they will be to share data – something promotion aware, savvy customers today totally accept.

Obviously if I end up making a purchase online they’ll be able to find out more about me during the registration process and tie this back to my in-store voucher redemption patterns to build my profile. However, if I am the type of person who engages online but ultimately purchases in-store, Gap’s current set-up won’t bring them anything more than my email address. 

For today’s marketers, trying to build a more personal rapport with customers is fundamental to developing long-term relationships and engagement. Personalised emails alone are no longer enough to stand out in the inbox – much more is required to catch the attention of increasingly busy consumers.

All in all I think Gap has made a good start with its move to e-commerce. It looks like they’ll be able to track my download behaviour, when and where I redeem vouchers, but I believe the next crucial step for Gap is to understand exactly how much data its customers perceive to be a fair exchange for offers and to capture that data, combine it with transactional data, and then use it to deliver increasingly personalised, relevant and fruitful communications.

The digital environment provides access to a wealth of data and it’s time for more retailers, especially the big players like Gap, to start taking advantage and move towards a truly multichannel approach to their marketing.

The next step: how to track me in the store. Watch this space...

Richard Lees

Published 28 September, 2010 by Richard Lees

Richard Lees is Chairman at dbg and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

11 more posts from this author

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Comments (3)


Sean Duffy

I think it is important to distinguish between personalisation and relevant campaigns.

Personally I think Gap have got this spot on - first name personalisation is so old hat and for something this advanced and widespread throughout their organisation I'm sure they know whether it makes any difference using the first name.

Surely asking what it is you are interested in where their product range is so diverse will enable far more relevant email campaigns. Then combining this with website behaviour data and transactional information will lead to a far more relevant set of emails, even if it is just driving footfall at the stores for some customers.

The fact these emails are so relevant will lead to them standing out in the inbox, and create that feeling that there is always something in the email for each individual leading to strong engagement rates and less list fatigue over time.

almost 8 years ago


George Wells, Digital Account Manager at MarketOne Digital

Great comment from Sean. Spot on,

almost 8 years ago


Hannah McMullen, Head of Marketing at Sky IQ

This is an interesting one. I've been a Gap VIP member for quite a few months now and have never even noticed I can update my preferences - I've been preoccupied with the voucher information if I'm honest.

I think the real point here is that the opportunity retailers like Gap have for collecting data and using this to increase campaign targeting and effectiveness. But they aren't taking full advantage. Preferences are useful but only provide a snippet of information. Other rich data such as recency, frequency and value should not be overlooked.

almost 8 years ago

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