My most recent foray on the Old Navy website revealed some interesting surprises, the most interesting being the addition of a new "brand" to the Gap Inc. family, Piper Lime. Piper Lime is an online shoe store launched this year, and unlike Gap Inc.'s other brands (Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy), does not sell any Gap-brand merchandise. Instead, Piper Lime features shoes from a variety of brands and a selection similar to that offered by Joneve or Sterling Shoes.
In my opinion, Piper Lime is a bittersweet blessing for Gap Inc. I applaud Piper Lime as a brilliant marketing strategy that allows Gap Inc. to enter the booming shoe retailer industry with minimal overhead and production costs. By keeping Piper Lime a strictly online shoe store that sells shoes from other brands, Gap Inc. reduces costs associated with producing its own shoes and renting and maintaining physical retail spaces. Also, the brands that it carries--Steve Madden, Nine West, Converse, Keds--resonate with young fashionistas more than the usual mass-produced Gap Inc. merchandise. And, who knows, maybe with time Piper Lime will develop such a following that Gap Inc. will decide to open brick-and-mortar Piper Lime stores.
At the same time, however, Piper Lime sets in stone Gap Inc.'s current reputation as a falling star in the fashion industry. I still remember with great fondness the Gap commercials from the '90s, when Gap was one of the biggest brands going. Now, though, Gap seems to struggle to keep up with its competitors. A recent article in the Globe and Mail states that Gap is increasingly losing market share to its sister brand, Old Navy, and other stores specializing in preppy classics like Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle. In this context, Piper Lime seems like another attempt to keep up with competitors rather than revive Gap as a trailblazer. The website is fun and easy to browse, but its selection can't compete with established online retailer Zappos, its street cred as a fashionista's shoe mecca doesn't come close to Gravity Pope, and as for prices, well, someone well-versed in sniffing out bargains on eBay could probably find the same shoes at better prices.