Gap Inc. on Wednesday announced plans to reopen "up to 800" of its Old Navy, Athleta, Gap, Banana Republic, Janie and Jack, and Intermix stores before the end of the month, starting with a few in Texas this weekend.
Throughout this month and next, the company is taking a phased approach to the process, and is working with local governments, health officials, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and "industry peers" in deciding when it's safe to do so, according to a corporate blog post.
As stores reopen, they will take precautions like having employees wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently; posting plexiglass "health guards" at each location; stepping up store cleaning and sanitation; and providing social distance guides for customers in stores, according to another post.
Last month, Gap Inc. warned that many of its stores won't ever reopen, citing the likelihood that apparel sales will remain weak even once stores are allowed to resume business.
Now it has plans to open a sizable number of stores, even as many jurisdictions remain locked down in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus and as the economy continues to take a beating as a result of that effort. The company runs 2,785 stores in North America: 675 Gap stores, 541 Banana Republic stores, 1,207 Old Navy stores, 190 Athleta stores, 139 Janie and Jack stores, and 33 Intermix stores.
In a statement, newly minted Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal expressed confidence in the company's "ability to safely scale North America openings over the coming months in line with local guidelines."
The apparel conglomerate has been busy during the crisis, leveraging stores as distribution hubs, boosting its e-commerce and taking lessons from its operations in Asia, where all of its locations have reopened, she also said.
But rather than scaling too far, the company may be better off taking the opportunity to open far fewer stores, especially of its Gap brand, according to Lee Peterson, executive vice president of thought leadership and marketing at WD Partners.
"Any brand, I don't care who you are, doesn't need so many physical locations," he told Retail Dive by phone. "All the malls are closing — in the United States there's really no more than 100 A and A-plus malls. Columbus at one time had seven malls and now we're going to have two, and of those, there's one that's really good. That's a pretty good microcosm of what we're going to have. Nowadays, especially post-COVID, you are really stretching it to go beyond that. If they're going to open those  and sit tight, that would be good."