It’s hard to stand out in the fashion industry. I’d know; I used to run a clothing store. Most brands try to appeal to a specific demographic – Abercrombie & Fitch focuses its marketing efforts primarily on middle-class teens, for example – but there’s one clothing retailer that, in my eyes, has achieved something remarkable: Gap.
What has Gap achieved, I hear you ask? It has successfully developed purposeful, inclusive brands that have a universal appeal. Young or old, big or small, Gap sells affordable clothes for everyone, and in this Gap competitors analysis, I’ll explain how this inclusive approach has allowed the company to grow.
The global retail apparel market is worth more than $1.4 trillion. The more people your clothes appeal to (in terms of style and price), the larger your market share. That’s what makes Gap’s approach to apparel so genius.
As of 2021, 67% of women in the US are plus-size, and 100,000,000 wear sizes that mainstream retail lines don’t normally cater for. This trend is reflected in many other countries worldwide, particularly in the west.
Some brands are beginning to release inclusive, plus-size ranges, but most are behind the curve, leaving a sizable section of the market open for the taking. Fortunately for Gap, catering to a broad demographic is nothing new.
What began as one man’s mission to create a retail experience that fits all has become, over the past half a century, a worldwide retail success.
The Bottom Line Up Front
Gap faces fierce competition from other brands like Zara, which prioritizes style and desirability over price and practicality. This approach has its pull for some consumers, particularly a younger demographic. But if you ask me, I’d take the quality and durability of Gap’s clothes over fashion-fad garments any day.
It hasn’t always been the most popular brand, but Gap has stayed true to the vision of inclusivity on which it was founded, and it looks like that approach might finally be paying off.
List of GAP’s Main Competitors
- Abercrombie & Fitch
Gap Business Strategy
The Gap Inc., often referred to as Gap, is an American clothing and accessories retailer that operates worldwide. It was founded in 1969 and is headquartered in San Francisco, California.
When Gap went public in 1969, it did so with an initial offering of 1.2 million shares of stock at $18 per share. The second Gap store, located in San Jose, opened in 1970. Today, the company has over 2,835 stores worldwide and is the largest speciality retailer in the US, though it has fewer stores internationally than Inditex Group and H&M.
Gap operates six main divisions: Old Navy, Banana Republic, Gap, Intermix, Janie and Jack, and Athleta. These brands are vital because they allow Gap to reach a broader range of consumers.
Today, one of the most important qualities of Gap clothes is their affordability; they aren’t luxury items but are still high quality. However, it hasn’t always been that way.
In the ‘90s, under the direction of Millard Drexler, Gap attempted to assume an upscale identity by revamping its inventory.
Unsurprisingly, if you ask me, this strategy proved untenable for Gap. Drexler was removed after 19 years due to his role in over-expanding the company and catalyzing a 29-month sales slump.
Gap has always had a strong brand identity. The company’s mission is to create a retail experience that fits all. According to the Gap website, its values are equality and belonging, gender equality and empowerment, and sustainability. Trying to change that identity was always going to fail.
The pandemic significantly impacted Gap, like many other clothing companies. In 2020, it announced plans to close 225 store locations due to Covid-19 – the original number was 90, but this had to be increased due to the financial impact of ongoing restrictions. A year later, Gap closed all its UK stores, offering online-only sales.
Like many of its competitors, Gap is no stranger to controversy regarding accusations of unethical conditions for factory workers. In 2003, for example, a class action lawsuit against Gap and several other companies resulted in a $20 million settlement. And in 2007, BBC footage showed evidence of child labor in Indian Gap factories.
Gap hasn’t been hit as hard by these accusations as some rival companies like Zara, but they have the potential to cause serious reputational damage.
However, it hasn’t all been bad for Gap. In 2020, the company announced a collaboration with Kanye West’s Yeezy brand, in which it earned $34.9 million in media impact value. That same year, Gap partnered with Afterpay, giving its customers the choice to pay for items in interest-free installments.
In 2021, Gap made $16.7 billion in revenue.
Gap Competitor Analysis
Gap competes with other multinational clothing companies like H&M and Abercrombie and Fitch.
Zara is a Spanish clothing retailer with headquarters in Galicia, Spain. It was founded in 1975 and is part of the Inditex Group, the world’s largest apparel retailer. Inditex Group also owns Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius, and Bershka.
Zara’s business strategy focuses on providing stylish clothes and accessories for fashion-forward individuals. It offers more products than its competitors but projects an image of high-class fashion using digital marketing techniques, which allows Zara to sell its products for a higher price.
In this way, Zara and Gap have different approaches. Gap is inclusive; Zara projects an image of exclusivity to some degree. The brand is known for producing garments in small sizes and its website rarely, if ever, features plus-size models.
The company operates in 88 countries (including China, Russia, France, the UK, and the US) and has almost 3,000 stores. 547 of these are in Spain.
Zara uses a production revenue model; it manufactures and sells garments online and in-store. While some clothing brands only refresh their stock once a season, Zara operates in the fast-fashion industry, which means stock turnover is rapid.
Ethical fashion activists have raised questions about Zara’s business practices. For example, a Brazilian TV show accused Zara of using sweatshops in 2011; Bangladeshi garment workers protested against their $38/month wage in 2013; and workers left handwritten notes in Zara garments in 2017, encouraging people to put pressure on Inditex to pay wages in full.
With sales of just less than 20 billion euros, Zara had the highest net sales of the Inditex group in 2021. That year, the brand’s total revenue doubled to 3.2 billion euros, with a value of 13.2 billion.
H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, commonly known as H&M, is a Swedish multinational clothing company founded in 1947. It sells clothes for women, men, and children using a fast fashion business model.
H&M doesn’t manufacture its clothes, unlike Zara; the company outsources production to more than 900 independent suppliers. However, this hasn’t helped H&M dodge accusations of unethical business practices. Being a fast fashion brand, it’s always in the line of fire, and a 2018 report revealed that many factory workers who make clothes for H&M live below the poverty line.
Greenwashing – another common pain point within the fast fashion industry – has featured heavily in H&M’s marketing activities. In June 2021, a report slammed the brand for misleading consumers regarding its green credentials (which are, in reality, almost nonexistent).
Marketing campaigns featuring deceptive campaigns can and often do backfire, as H&M learnt following the above report. Before its release in 2017, the company had far higher sales of $27,969 million, compared to just $22,043 million in 2021. H&M’s stock price also fell by 40% in the first half of 2018.
Nevertheless, H&M is a prominent brand within the industry, and it does appear to be bouncing back following the hit it took during the pandemic. It operates over 4,800 stores in 75 markets globally, and its online sales grew by 30% in 2021.
Interestingly, Hennes & Mauritz AB is the global retailer behind Inditex, so H&M shares distant links with Zara, although the two compete.
In 2022, H&M’s executives announced plans to double sales by 2030 using a multichannel strategy while halving the company’s carbon footprint. Personally, I think this is an ambitious (read: unrealistic) target given H&M’s falling popularity compared to Zara, but only time will tell whether the company is successful at achieving it.
Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) is a lifestyle retailer focusing on casual wear. It was founded in 1892 and is headquartered in New Albany, Ohio. As well as the original A&F brand, the company has several offshoot brands, including Hollister Co., Gilly Hicks, and Abercrombie Kids.
A&F operates over 860 stores in the US, Europe, Canada, Asia, and the Middle East. The company saw a boom in popularity in the early 2000s; for those who have kept a close eye on the fashion industry, it’s been one hell of a ride.
The company originally sold hunting and fishing gear when it was established in 1892, but by 1910, it had opened a large department store on Madison Avenue selling men’s and women’s clothing.
After a period of financial instability, Mike Jeffries took over as CEO and brought a new vision for the company: to target the day’s youth. This was, in my eyes, the single most important decision in A&F’s history because it brought with it so much success.
The company made $50 million in sales and had 36 stores when Jeffries took over. When it went public under his direction in 1996, it had about 125 stores and sales of $335 million. Four years later, in 2000, A&F opened its subsidiary, Hollister.
A&F and Hollister became two of the most popular clothing brands in the world for teens, partly due to an excellently targeted marketing strategy: the stores used to have muscular guys standing outside to attract people and portray a particular ideal.
Even though the company’s use of male models earned it a degree of criticism from some people, ultimately, all publicity was good publicity. The more notorious the brand became, the more teens wanted to buy its products.
However, that isn’t the only criticism A&F has received. In 2002, Asian Americans criticized the brand for some of its t-shirts, which featured images of Asian stereotypes. The company removed the shirts from its shelves, but that wasn’t the end.
A year later, A&F faced a class action lawsuit for discrimination against Asian Americans, African Americans, and other minority applicants, because executives had told store managers to deny they were hiring if people didn’t have the right appearance. A&F settled the lawsuit in 2004 by paying $40 million.
As the world moved on from the hot Hollister hunks, A&F’s popularity began to wane in the late 2000s, when the company experienced a decline in sales for 11 quarters.
Today, though, there is light at the end of the tunnel for A&F. In 2015, the company launched a new line focusing on a slightly older demographic, and in 2017, Fran Horowitz took over as CEO to help the company rebrand.
A&F has adapted its marketing strategies to reflect a new generation. In particular, the company uses Tik Tok ad campaigns to reintroduce the A&F brand to young people.
In 2021, A&F earned $3.67 billion in revenue, a 15.4% increase from 2020.
Originally founded in 1949 as a textiles manufacturer, today, Uniqlo is a clothing apparel company that focuses on functional clothes designed to “inspire the world to dress casual.” I can’t say I approve of that mission, but it seems to have been fairly successful for the company.
Uniqlo has more than 2,000 stores in 25 markets, so there’s no doubting it’s a major player in the fast fashion industry. However, Uniqlo’s business strategy is markedly different from most of its competitors. Rather than chasing the latest trends in an endless cycle, the company focuses on basic, comfortable clothes that are always in demand.
While Zara positions itself as a desirable, fashion-forward brand, Uniqlo markets its products based on affordability. This strategy, led by visionary CEO Tadashi Yanai, has helped the Uniqlo brand succeed in the highly competitive fast fashion market.
Yanai came 54th on Harvard Business Review’s list of the best performing CEOs in 2019 and has supplied a 700% shareholder return since 2000.
Uniqlo prides itself on providing exemplary customer service, forming a major pillar of the company’s business strategy. It invests heavily in employee development and training, making Uniqlo a great place to shop and work.
The Uniqlo University exemplifies this commitment to customer service. Based in Tokyo, it trains 1,500 new store managers yearly.
Uniqlo’s digital marketing strategy is also highly successful, largely thanks to the role of influencers. There are six Uniqlo global ambassadors, including the Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer, and these famous figureheads play a vital role in attracting new customers.
Unsurprisingly, Uniqlo is in a strong financial position. The company made a revenue of 930.1 billion yen in 2021 – a 10% increase from 2020 – and its e-commerce sales also increased by 20%.
Gap SWOT Analysis
This SWOT analysis highlights Gap’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- Global brand recognition
- Multi-brand portfolio
- Effective supply chain
- Inclusive approach to clothing is in line with current trends
- Strong sustainability record compared to rival brands
- Able to react to trends quickly
- High-quality products
- Good supplier network
- Waning popularity compared to some rivals
- Lack of product variety – clothes are fairly basic
- Gap has faced accusations regarding slave labor and poor working conditions for factory workers
- Lots of stores had to be closed due to Covid-19
- Gap could expand into new and emerging markets, especially in Asia
- A bigger investment in digital marketing and online sales
- More collaborations with famous people and influencers
- Product expansion for the highly popular Athleta brand
- Other brands offer clothes that are more stylish than Gap
- Rising production costs pose a serious threat
- Global economies are struggling to recover post-pandemic
- Declining sales and profits
Gap Competitors Analysis FAQs
Question: What makes Gap unique?
Answer: From day one, the Gap brand has always been about inclusivity. While competitors like Zara try to cultivate an aura of exclusivity, Gap caters to all sizes, ages, and ethnicities.
Question: Is Gap a good brand?
Answer: Gap has a better reputation for ethical business practices than some competitors. However, it has still come under fire for having poor working conditions in some of its factories.
Question: What industry is Gap in?
Answer: Gap is in the retail apparel industry, worth over $1.4 trillion.
Question: Why is Gap no longer popular?
Answer: Gap has faced problems because its business model relied primarily on the existence of malls, but many malls have closed in favor of online shopping. It isn’t necessarily that the brand lacks popularity, but more that it hasn’t yet fully harnessed the power of digital sales and marketing.
Gap was an incredibly popular brand in the ‘90s, but its success has recently waned. Competitors like Zara and H&M have adapted to meet the modern consumer’s needs by embracing the rise of digital, but Gap is lagging.
To an extent, I think this is to be expected; after all, Gap used to rely heavily on the existence of malls where it could have physical stores.
Now, most people want to shop online – if Gap can successfully utilize the power of e-commerce and digital marketing, I’m sure it will continue to grow and prosper. Especially since the current trend is toward inclusive sizing and body positivity, two things Gap has always championed.