GAP CIO Paul Chapman closes the omni-channel gap with Oracle Cloud migration

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman October 12, 2017
At Oracle OpenWorld, The Gap’s Intermix brand was hailed as the first in its portfolio to make the trip to the cloud, but other passengers aren’t far behind. 

Paul Chapman

Here at diginomica we recently noted GAP Inc CEO Art Peck’s claim that, when it comes to its “very robust, very profitable online and mobile business”, the international clothing retailer just doesn’t get the respect and recognition he feels it deserves.

At Oracle OpenWorld last week, GAP CIO Paul Chapman joined Oracle CEO Mark Hurd on stage to discuss the considerable behind-the-scenes IT effort at the company to bolster its digitally-led, omni-channel approach.

Above all, there’s the shift of the company’s Oracle Retail applications to the cloud. Over time, this will encompass all of the company’s well-known brands, including The GAP, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta, as well as the less well-known bridal brand, Weddington Way.

But for now, GAP Inc is starting with Intermix, a brand that offers clothing from independent established and emerging designers, both online and through a clutch of around 40 boutiques in the US and Canada.

Young and still small, Intermix is the low-hanging fruit in the cloud-migration equation. At Oracle OpenWorld, it was announced that the brand is now running entirely on Oracle’s cloud for merchandising and inventory management. It has also created dashboard notifications and alerts for daily tasks like purchase order approval and sales auditing.

As Chapman put it in an official statement:

This investment marks the first step on a journey to adopting cloud technology across our global operations.

As indicated, there is far more to come, and Chapman was keen to expound on this in his on-stage chat with Hurd. Two years ago, he reflected, the GAP’s IT environment, he said:

...was not in a healthy state. It was very transaction-based, very decentralized.

Hence the 24-month effort to find a better way, and the company is already reaping some of the benefits of a rethink. By streamlining its supply chain operations, largely through increased use of analytics shared across its multiple brands, he said, GAP Inc is already finding more time to focus on the customer experience:

We can design and oversee all the sourcing, logistics and final last-mile delivery of our products like no other apparel retailer in the world. And we use that to our advantage. A good example is in the whole athleisure space. Here we have [our brands] Athleta, GAP and Old Navy – all three brands are in the athleisure business and our ability now to share information across all of these businesses, that institutional knowledge, has become critical to our success.

In other words, the insights drawn from analytics on what customers need and want from their activewear – whether they’re training for a marathon, mums on the school run, a combination of the two, or in another athleisure wear customer category entirely – enables GAP Inc to offer appealing items at different price points and in different designs, according to the brand that the individual customer favours, he explained.

 What does this mean for customers?

That brings us to the customer experience itself. Chapman seemed aware that there is more work to do here and, from personal experience of having visited GAP stores in London, Toronto and San Francisco in recent months, I can only concur.

(My experience in the San Francisco flagship GAP store in the Flood Building on Market Street was several steps ahead of what I experienced at the store in Toronto’s downtown Eaton Centre mall and light years ahead of a GAP store on London’s Oxford Street, which was more akin to a series of badly run market stalls.)

But Chapman was keen to use his moment on the OOW stage to point to some important recent victories, beyond the Intermix migration to the cloud. First, there is mobile check-out now in many stores, he said, and staff on the shop floor in many outlets using mobile devices to engage with customers.

Then there are the company’s ship-from-store capabilities, he added:

We’ve figured out how to expose our store inventory to online customers and make sure we are pretty much always in stock.

Another big opportunity for GAP Inc, said Chapman, is its ‘universal cart”:

In our e-commerce world, for our four major brands [GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta], you can shop across those major brands and have one check-out experience. This is our strategic weapon, unlike what a lot of other retailers have, and we will continue to support it in the years ahead.

As Chapman described it, GAP Inc’s journey to the cloud, and a true ‘omnichannel’ experience for customers, will be a lengthy trip, made in stages. Many benefits have yet to evidence themselves outside of the company’s US heartland. After all, we are talking about a brand with some 3,200 company-operated stores in 90 countries, plus about 450 franchise stores.

What Chapman is aiming for is ‘retail 3.0’, in recognition that many retailers are already hard at work on their ‘retail 2.0’ strategies. In other words, he’s looking to leapfrog the competition, but he’s dragging a legacy estate of tremendous scale behind him.

What he did make clear, however, is his commitment to cloud as the underpinning of that vision, across the board, as he told Hurd:

On an operating side, I’m committed not only to keeping our costs the same, but to bringing them down over the coming years. And, of course, there’s an ever-increasing demand for technology, so I’ve got to make sure I can minimize IT costs over time, take those savings, and channel them into new investments for our customers.

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