Thursday, May 24, 2007

High Expectations at Gap Maternity

As an editor who covers the retail industry, I visit stores for business and pleasure. While shopping, I always take in the new technologies, store designs and the overall store experience. I recently learned that store design and customer experience take on a whole new meaning when you are pregnant.

While the Gap has come under lots of scrutiny and criticism of late, the company is still one of my retailers of choice. In fact, my Gap private-label credit card is being used more regularly now that I am pregnant, thanks to an impressive and expanding maternity department both online and in physical stores. During a recent shopping trip to a couple of stores that feature Gap Maternity, I did notice one area that needs some attention.

I set aside an afternoon to visit Gap’s flagship store on 34th Street in New York City. This was also one of the first locations to feature a Gap Maternity department (approximately four years ago). While I loved the many apparel options I had, I wasn’t too excited about sifting through khakis and shirts that were displayed on low-set shelves found in wall displays and table fixtures.

To make matters worse, the two round sales racks were literally up against each other, and positioned a mere 2 ft. from the wall. This configuration was aggravating to me. And just to make sure it wasn’t my hormones, I watched other "preggies," who were much further along than me, struggle to move through the tight space. And it was impossible for new and expecting moms to navigate their baby strollers through the area.

Curiosity got the best of me and later that week, I visited the maternity department at the 59th Street and Lexington Avenue Gap store. While the sale racks were more conveniently built into the back wall, this 5-ft.-tall mother-to-be had a hard time browsing through the garments hanging on the top rack. And again, I had to squat to sift through low-placed merchandise. (Even though I am used to squatting in my pre-natal yoga classes, I was hoping to save these poses for labor, not shopping!)

If my experiences have any impact at all, I just hope one Gap associate or executive could persuade managers—and corporate planners, for that matter—to alter their merchandising strategies to better accommodate their target customer base—pregnant shoppers.

— Deena M. Amato-McCoy

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