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Banana Republic, Old Navy to launch online stores

The two clothing retailers have launched temporary Web sites, indicators that parent company Gap Incorporated is preparing to add the two stores to its online array before the holiday season.

Banana Republic and Old Navy have launched temporary Web sites, indicators that parent company Gap Incorporated is preparing to add the two stores to its online array before the holiday season.

Both sites display messages that they are "coming soon." For Banana Republic, that means the company will open its online store on October 15, according to company spokeswoman Cindy Capobianco. The site will offer everything that customers would find in one of the company's flagship stores, Capobianco said, including men's and women's clothing, shoes, soap and other personal-care items, and home items such as bedspreads and sheets.

An Old Navy spokeswoman declined to say when the company would launch its e-commerce site, saying only that it would open up sometime "this fall." She also said she did not know what the company would be offering online.

Although Banana Republic and Old Navy have been e-commerce laggards, sister retailer Gap was one of the first brick-and-mortar stores to go online, opening its Net store two years ago. Last year, Gap launched online stores for its BabyGap and GapKids chains.

Barry Parr, e-commerce analyst at International Data Corporation, said both Banana Republic and Old Navy should fare well online. The companies' customers generally know what the merchandise will look like, Parr said, meaning that they don't need to see it in person.

Parr said he didn't understand what has held up a Banana Republic or Old Navy online debut.

"It's a mystery to me," Parr said. "They should have done it a long time ago."

Cindy Capobianco, senior director of communciations for Banana Republic, said the company didn't see itself as delaying its entry into e-commerce. After starting off as a retailer of safari gear and wear in the early 1980s, the company has struggled to find its identity. Banana Republic waited to go online until "we were able to establish our presence in our stores," Capobianco said.

"We've gone through many incarnations and landed on our brand identity in the mid-1990s," she said. "Our brand identity is totally changed."

The move into e-commerce is a back-to-the-future move of sorts for the clothing retailer. The company sold directly to customer through a catalog throughout the 1980s, but discontinued the catalog in 1989. To relaunch the catalog last year and prepare for next month's online store opening, the company had to rebuild its distribution network, Capobianco said.

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