January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Gap Gets Maternal

Gap Inc. has taken baby steps into the maternity market by launching a new line of maternity clothes to be sold exclusively on its Web site. The newest line from Gap allows the company to gauge customer demand without investing a lot of money to expand new stores, according to analysts. "The Internet is uniquely positioned to test something new," says Lazard Freres retail analyst Todd Slater. "If it grows into something more substantial, they can add it as a line extension in stores.''

The retailer says it has no plans currently to bring the line to its stores. Gap, which opened GapKids in 1986 and BabyGap in 1990, is branching out to maternity clothes at the request of customers. "A lot of women have been asking for comfortable, affordable maternity clothes with classic styles,'' says Gap spokesperson Amy Maniatis. "We've always prided ourselves on being able to serve everyone from babies to grandparents, so adding maternity is the most natural move for us.''

Gap's Web-based maternity line will compete against established retailers such as A Pea in the Pod, Mimi Maternity and babystyle.com, but analysts say the mid-priced maternity clothing market remains relatively untapped. "There's no question there's a void in the market," says 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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