Michael McCadden doesn't see the Web as a new frontier of digital commerce. He sees it as another playground for his company's powerful brand. McCadden joined the Gap Inc. three years ago as head of marketing. One of his first objectives was to launch a Web site for the giant retailer (1998 revenues: $9 billion). He didn't much care about installing cool technology or devising a break-the-rules retailing model. "The site grew out of the brand," says McCadden, 41, now executive vice president of Gap Inc. Direct. "That's how we came into the online world — as another way to let consumers experience the brand."
More seamlessly than almost any other retailer, the Gap has figured out how to integrate its brand — and the way customers experience the brand — across three channels: physical stores, 800-numbers, and the Web. One example: A customer who buys a pair of jeans over the phone or via the Web can return the item to any of the Gap's 1,700 stores.
In an interview with Net Company, McCadden explained how an unwavering focus on the Gap brand drives the Gap's Web presence.
What does the Gap brand represent?
Ease. We hope that our advertising is easy to understand, and we hope that our Web site is easy to use. Our basic goal is to be simple. That's why we've kept the site clean and straightforward. Our big challenge is to offer a full product line on the site while also making the site easy to navigate — keeping to a minimum the number of clicks that it takes to get to a given product. That's something that we measure: How quickly can you find the shirt that you're looking for?
What role does an online store play?
It's primarily about convenience. Insomniacs can shop there. People who love our retail stores can use the Web to buy gifts, or to find styles that they can't find at their local store. It's hard to replicate the energy of a Gap store: the music, the physical environment, the human element. But we are trying to replicate as much of that energy online as we can. The ultimate goal is for people to say, "This really feels like the Gap."
How do the various channels complement one another?
We look at everything that the Gap does as the expression of one brand — not as a separate channel or distribution system. So do our customers. From the moment we launched our site, customers have been walking into our stores with printouts of Web pages. They'll point to a page and say, "This is the product that I want." Or, if they're in a store, trying to buy a pair of jeans, and they can't find their size, an associate will tell them to log onto the Gap Online. On our Web site, we carry almost every size and style. Meanwhile, in our flagship stores, we're installing Web Lounges. You can explore Gap Online in the store and order from there.
Is there a trick to all of this?
First, think the way the customer thinks, not the way technical people think. Second, don't force the Web on people. We're not trying to change behavior. We're just trying to give people more options. However they want to experience our brand, the Gap will be there.
Coordinates: Michael McCadden, firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared in the Prototype Issue issue of Fast Company magazine.