A Gap in Online Shopping

According to this report by Bob Tedeschi in the New York Times, Gap is about to change the way we do our shopping – and for the better.

Recognizing that consumer inefficiency has been missing online, Gap wants to make it easier for consumers to check out what products are available and find out information without having to point, click, refresh, point, click, refresh.

For instance, when women browse Gap.com’s T-shirt section, they do not have to click to a new page to see details about the 16 shirts shown on each page. Rather, when they put the cursor over an item (called “mousing over” in industry parlance), they are invited to click on a “quick look” link for the shirt. That link yields a pop-up window that shows a model wearing the shirt alongside swatches of the colors it is available in. Mouse over any swatch, and the shirt takes on its hue – and the window tells you what sizes are in stock.

When a shopper clicks “add to bag” from within that window, the site does not shuttle her to a checkout page, as many electronic retailers do. Instead, another small window replaces the previous one, showing the shopping bag and asking her to consider multi-item discounts. If she ignores that window or clicks the “close” button, it disappears and she continues browsing shirts from the original page.

Most companies on the internet are still working off the “dial up assumption,” which is the assumption that consumers have neither the computers nor the bandwidth to handle an overflow of pop-ups and other information without pointing, clicking, and refreshing. Gap will change that – and hopefully forever.

Interestingly, Gap took all of its sites offline, instead of building behind the existing site – despite a projected loss in the millions of dollars from shoppers unable to connect.

[I]t was overhauling all the back-office systems used to track inventory and manage promotions, among many other functions, a seamless transition was impossible.

This innovation will not be rolled out quickly to other sites because Gap spent millions on it in-house, instead of contracting out to companies that could then port the technology to other vendors. Nonetheless, Gap’s leap forward will no doubt spur on lots of innovation in other online retailers looking to one up Gap. The overall result will be a more pleasant online shopping experience for consumers right at the moment consumers are really starting to invest in broadband.

The shopping experience will be available at Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy.

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Erick Erickson

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