August 31, 2005, 12:00 AM

Gap still hasn’t filled its downtime gap

Gap Inc. is overhauling its e-commerce sites with new personalization tools and upgrades, but all or a portion of its web stores have been offline for a week, prompting performance analysts to ask what’s going on.

Gap Inc. is slowly but surely coming back online with a new look and advanced features for each of its e-commerce sites, which include Gap.com, Old Navy.com and BananaRepublic.com.

But in what many e-commerce analysts see as a highly unusual move for a major multi-channel retailer, the sites were taken down entirely on Aug. 24 and kept offline for almost a week. BananaRepublic.com and OldNavy.com went live once more on Aug. 29 for awhile, but as of the morning of Aug. 31, all e-commerce sites, including Gap.com, were still offline.

Gap, No. 22 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Guide to Retail Web Sites, is a major web retailer with estimated annual e-commerce sales of more than $400 million. By keeping its highly trafficked e-commerce sites down for an extended period, Gap runs the risk of losing millions of dollars in potential online sales and alienating customers. "It`s very unusual and generally not required to take a site down for several days if planned properly,” says David Fry, president of Fry Inc., an Ann Arbor, MI, web design and e-commerce services company. “Even a complete platform change doesn`t necessitate that much downtime, but there may be extenuating circumstances we aren`t aware of."

With a major site redesign, most retailing organizations plan a specific time and date to take a new site live. It’s also standard procedure to keep the older site operating, take a new site live during a period of off-peak traffic such as late at night or on a weekend and then monitor the redesigned site for any potential trouble, says Kim Weller, a principal consultant on the user experience team for Molecular Inc., a technology consulting firm to web retailing and other vertical markets. “What’s happening with Gap is highly unusual since most new launches are set for a weeknight at midnight when the new site can be monitored for trouble and minimized for downtime,” Weller says. “To be down for that long sounds as if there may be some performance issues involved.”

A Gap spokesman says late August was the best time to implement site upgrades before the holiday shopping season. “There is never an ideal time,” the spokesman says. The new site will feature several new upgrades that help to personalize the shopping experience. For instance, Gap created new tools that help shoppers see more detail such as product overviews and available sizes and colors. Customers can choose an outfit and on the same page see how the clothes look with matching accessories. The shopping cart has also been updated with new and larger images and editing tools. “We`re redesigning and rebuilding our web sites to improve customer service and the online shopping experience,” the spokesman says.

But with its web stores down for an extended period, Gap is forfeiting potential sales to other online apparel retailers and missing a key part of the back to school shopping season. “It’s very odd to have that much down time,” Weller says.

 

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