Jun 30, 2021
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Gap turns its back on UK and ROI stores; France, Italy to see partner deals

Jun 30, 2021

Gap is going online-only in the UK and Republic of Ireland with news on Wednesday that it’s closing all 81 of its stores in the British Isles, rather than just the 19 that had already been announced for closure in July as their leases expired. It’s also in negotiations for its French and Italian stores to be run by local partners.

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The company stressed that the move doesn’t represent an exit from the UK and ROI with its webstore operations still flying the flag for the Gap brand there, but through an as-yet-unnamed partner rather than as a direct operation.

Although the company said the stores would close “in a phased manner”, it’s actually happening quite quickly with all doors shutting between the end August and the end of September.

It’s unclear how many jobs will be lost as the company prepares to start a consultation process with its staff.

The American group has been reviewing its European operations after a tough period that hasn’t only affected Britain and Ireland. The talks around its French and Italian stores are part of its “Power Plan” designed to “amplify our global reach”, a spokesperson said.

In France it’s talking to FIB Group’s Hermione People & Brands, but its potential Italian partner hasn’t been named. There had been speculation earlier that the UK could also see a partnership deal, but this option has clearly been rejected.

The company has struggled to find meaningful growth for some time, but becoming an online pureplay in the UK and Ireland could make sense. Reports suggested Gap had seen strong e-sales during the pandemic.

But regardless of how wise a move it is for Gap, it’s a further blow for high streets and malls in both Britain and Ireland after the closure of multiple chains since the pandemic began, and even earlier as consumers shifted online.

Debenhams, Topshop and Oasis are just some of the chains that have shut in the last 15 months. Coming at a time when physical stores had already been closing (with even some BHS locations that shut in 2016 still vacant), this illustrates the huge and rapid change that has been seen in retail in the last half-decade.

While there’s something of a store opening boom at present after opening activity was suppressed during lockdowns, overall store numbers have dwindled. More and more retail units are being converted to leisure, housing, dining or other uses.

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