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Tuesday 04 October 2005

Sell Your Gap Stock Now

The Gap has been struggling for weeks now with a bad re-implementation of its website. The site was down all together for most of the month, and while now it’s ‘up’, that’s being charitable.

Imagine you are using an Apple Macintosh computer, and further that you are using Safari, the only web browser that’s shipped with the Mac. What do you think you’re likely to see then?

Maybe this foghorn will answer your question: Wah-Waaahhh.


And what if you try to visit the website of Banana Republic, the Gap’s ‘upscale’ store?



Both sites — they appear to be run from the same code — do a few pointless redirects, and then continue to reload the same script, forever. This movie shows what happens with the Gap, and this very similar movie shows bananarepublic.com in ‘action’.

The sites appear to work fine in Internet Explorer on Windows, and in Firefox on both Windows and the Mac. Still, though: you would think that after a long outage officially for the purpose of ‘updating our site with innovative new features’ to bring me ‘an extraordinary shopping experience’, they’d be able to, if not get it right, at least not get it so incredibly wrong.


I will say one thing: this is an ‘extraordinary’ shopping experience, in that most stores, whether online or in the real world, tend to do everything they can to attract as many customers as possible.

What makes this so annoying is that there’s no reason for it. There are a lot of things that don’t work on the Macintosh, even if you only consider web things. Google Maps didn’t work on Safari at first, and even today it’s much slower and crappier on Safari than on Internet Explorer for Windows. Ditto for Gmail.

These were because of genuine challenges, because of differences in the way certain things are implemented in Safari and in other web browsers.

In the case of the Gap, though, it’s entirely because of a stupid bug in their software. The Gap’s website attempts to detect what browser you are using, and to vary the content based on this.

There’s a bug in this code, though, and if you’re using Safari you wind up getting thrown into the endless loop.

But it’s possible to tell Safari to identify itself to web servers as Internet Explorer running on Windows:


And if you do this, the site happily loads, and it appears to work just fine:


In other words, because the rocket scientists Gap hired to build this thing are doing something they don’t need to do and doing it badly, the site is inaccessible to anywhere to people who use the most popular web browser on the Macintosh.

It’s pointless to argue about the Mac’s market share; either it’s 1.8%, or 2.5%, or 4.5%, or 16%. In any case, the average Mac user is wealthier (not to mention better looking) than the average Windows user, and Macs are less likely to be in use behind corporate firewalls that block things like online-shopping websites. All those Windows PCs at the Bank of America are part of Windows’ ‘market share’, but the tellers can’t order their Wide Leg Ultra Low Rise Flare Pants from there.

And, remember: whatever they’re actually doing here is not something that needs doing; it’s sheer incompetence that’s behind this failure. I sure hope that the Gap isn’t paying these developers a lot — but experience tells me that they probably are.

Posted by tino at 23:39 4.10.05
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Last week, I went there for something, I don’t know what. I was “chosen” to view the new site (yeah, right), and found that the pagination failed utterly. As I was following some links from your blog today, I found that others had the same experience, though they didn’t mention if they were using a Mac or not.

I decided to write a letter. Here’s what I got back:

Thank you for your e-mail. We apologize for the difficulties you experienced on our site. Currently we support AOL, Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Firefox for PC users. Unfortunately, we temporarily do not support Microsoft Internet Explorer for Macintosh.

Our developers are aware of this issue and hope to have this resolved soon.

If you continue to experience problems with any of the browsers that we support, please check your browser settings to confirm that they meet our requirements. For Mac users having difficulties using Safari, you can download Firefox for free at the website listed below:


If we may be of further assistance, please contact us via e-mail at custserv@gap.com or by calling 1-800-GAP-STYLE. Our Customer Service Consultants are available 24 hours a day for your convenience.


This means that they are completely aware that Safari fails on the Mac. In some web development I’ve been doing, I had a similar problem, except that Safari did work and nothing else did. I took a few hours on Saturday morning and solved the problem. By myself, lounging around in my jammies found my stupid browser detection bug.

I can’t believe the people that developed this thing are this stupid, so I can only assume that the management are a bunch of morons and haven’t actually asked anyone to fix the Safari problem. This no longer matters to me anyway. I looked at the site with Firefox and they still have the same crap they’ve been flogging for years that looks like it’s from 1979.

This re-treading of fashion from my Jr. High years has been going on so long (everyone’s doing it, not just the Gap) that I’ve been subscribing to fashion magazines from Europe and have been sewing again.

Posted by: Nicole at October 5, 2005 09:19 AM

This is the same type of thing Opera users have been dealing with for ages now. And it’s ridiculous — even three or four years ago it could be argued that browser detection code was pointless. Today, it’s not only pointless, it’s harmful, as your experience shows.

Any web developer worth their salt knows that building browser detection into a new site is a wasted effort and will ultimately come back to bite him. Apparently, the Gap developers weren’t worth their salt.

Posted by: Ryan at October 5, 2005 01:56 PM

Hm. Isn’t a “.do” file extension usually indicative of a Java Struts back end? I find it amusing that they’d move the server platform away from Windows (their stuff used to be all “.asp”) and still somehow make the site less compatible. Regardless of the cause, the problem is very 1998. Detect the object, not the browser, bozos.

Posted by: fedward at October 5, 2005 10:21 PM

Personally any developer who creates a site that can’t be viewed with any mainstream web browser these days should be fired on the spot. Heck they should never be hired or the contract should state explicitly that the resulting website will work day 1 with IE, Netscape, Firefox, Opera on both Windows & Mac along with Safari.

Posted by: Paul at October 6, 2005 11:52 AM

Sadly, it’s become clear that I need a Windows box for some development I’m doing. I was browsing stores on line because I have no idea what to expect for what I’m willing to spend (ie, not much, not much), and I found out that Best Buy is just…down.

They aren’t complaining about my browser, they just don’t have a website right now. They offer a store locator, a view of their weekly ad circular and nothing else. Oh, and a credit card application. I have no idea how long it’s been that way, but now I’ll have to check back in a week or so and see if it’s still almost but not completely useless.

Posted by: Nicole at November 9, 2005 03:36 PM