The Gap: Poor data creates CRM snafu

Online service problems at The Gap highlight the connection between back-end IT systems and customer satisfaction.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Incorrect customer transaction data and information sharing limitations between online and local stores at clothing retailer, the Gap, creates serious problems for some buyers. This case demonstrates the important connection between IT systems and customer satisfaction.

The details are clear because this story happened to me when I shopped at The Gap's online store. Here is the company's simple return policy, as stated on its website:

You can return or exchange items by mail or at the appropriate brand's store (U.S. locations only) within 45 days of your order date.

However, buying online and trying to return items at a local store became a difficult and lengthy ordeal due to multiple data problems.

Online data issues

The order process itself had problems:

  • After online checkout before final payment, the system removed an item from my shopping cart saying it was no longer available.
  • Following payment, The Gap sent an email saying an item I bought was no longer available and would not be shipped.
  • The shipping receipt indicated The Gap would send the reported out of stock item separately; no such order segment ever arrived.

Brick and mortar data issues

Trying to return the items revealed additional system failures:

  • The retail store could not locate my purchase in the transaction history to which it has access. According to the Gap employees, stores have only limited access to online records.
  • The local store then called the company's online services organization, which also had no record of my purchase.
  • The store manager finally bypassed the online order system to process the return independently from my specific account.


Creating a seamless online shopping experience requires accurate inventory data, purchase history, and so on. The data challenge grows when company such as The Gap integrates online services with local retail stores.

According to anonymous Gap employees with whom I spoke, the company often faces difficulty resolving problems that arise when customers order online and seek service in a local store. The Gap did not respond to my official request for comment; here is the email I sent the company's public relations department:

I am writing a story for ZDNet, a unit of CBS news, about service problems when some customers place orders online and attempt to return the merchandise to local stores.

Inconsistencies and discrepancies on customer order data sometimes leads to problems returning items in the stores. Clearly, the GAP has system-related issues in this area.

My questions:

1. Is Gap aware of these issues? 2. How widespread is the problem? 3. Has Gap taken steps to correct the underlying system issues?

Note to The Gap: Ignoring this problem creates the impression that your company just doesn't care about customer service. Can we draw any other conclusion from your lack of response?

The Gap is hardly alone among retailers facing such problems. I have blogged about system problems at retailers such as Levi Strauss, and Overstock.com. Another merchant, J.Crew, reported poor financial results after rolling out a customer relationship upgrade without sufficient testing.

My take. In a data-driven world, successful customer relationships require accurate and timely data.

The systems that collect, manage, and distribute this data to customers and internal employees are sufficiently complex to make IT success a strategic and competitive advantage for organizations that do it well. Conversely, by creating hassle for customers, IT failure can erode confidence and reduce buyers' willingness to engage and shop.

Back-end IT and customer interactions systems can have a profound impact on overall customer satisfaction and brand image.

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