December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Gap gets maternal, but only online

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Pregnant Netizens didn’t have to wait until Mother’s Day for a gift from Gap Inc.: a new line of maternity clothes being test-marketed on the retailer’s Web site. “Ever since launching Baby Gap,” says a company spokesperson, “mothers have been vocal about maternity clothes.”

The Web-exclusive line mainly consists of Gap classics converted for the maternity set. The offerings include t-shirts, shells, cardigan sweaters, stretch pants, and work-wear basics. The site will showcase 10 to 20 items rotating seasonally. So far, Gap doesn’t plan to start selling the maternity line in its stores, the spokesperson adds.

Using a Web store to test demand for new product lines is just the sort of innovation retailers should be bringing to their sites, says Gene Alvarez, program director of e-business strategies at the Meta Group, Stamford, Conn. “The possibilities are boundless,” says Alvarez. “People are experimenting with rebranding, and with the Internet, there’s very little cost involved. If it doesn’t work, you can take it down quicker than in a brick- and-mortar store.”

Gap’s entry into the maternity clothing market puts it in competition with a handful of established e-retailers such as A Pea in the Pod, Mimi Maternity and babystyle.com, but analysts say the market for mid-priced maternity clothing remains relatively untapped.

“There’s no question there’s a void in the market,” says Lazard Freres retail analyst Todd Slater. “There seems to be a lot of low-end, unattractive maternity clothing and then designer outlets, but there’s very little of good taste in the middle.”

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