Ron Sparks Author, Poet

Rant: Gap Brand Forces Membership


Today’s blog is a rant on poor and intrusive website design. If you’re not into these types of issues, feel free to skip this blog.

My niece’s birthday is tomorrow. She turns 25-years-old. Being the procrastinator that I am, I went out this morning to buy her a gift card. not knowing what to buy a 25-year-old woman, I went to and decided to buy her a Gap Brand gift card.

This gift card is valid at all Gap Brand stores, Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic.

So I went through the purchase process. I was not impressed with the flow of the purchase process. Every page was too busy. I have been developing web applications and online storefronts since 1995. You can easily call me an EXPERT/GURU user. When I have to slow down and look at what’s going on because the design is not intuitive you know there’s a problem.

Ajax pop-ups. In-store self-promotional ads, poor placement of purchase forms -all of these detracted from the purchase experience. The goal of a purchase process is to reduce the number of clicks and get the money in hand as quickly as possible. The Old Navy website did an extremely poor job of this.

No online retailer intentionally goes into purchase process design saying “I’m gonna make it hard on the user!” No – they always have the best of intentions but a lot of things get in the way. It’s almost always a combination of the following:

  1. Too many managers in the mix.
    Too many people have say in what goes where on the site. Usually pressure from marketing or some other department forces bad design decisions in against the better judgment of the development manager.
  2. Weak Development Management
    A corporate policy that creates a development manager who has no real authority or power over what goes onto the site is nearly always to blame here. Too many outside divisions have override authority. Or worse, the Development Manager HAS the proper authority but is not personally strong enough to make the tough decisions.
  3. Over-Familiarity with the Website
    This is VERY common. After months of development and internal testing, there is no longer a single unbiased resource at the company. They have used the website so often they know all the tricks and know the flow so well that it’s second nature. They “overlook” the deficiencies because they have trained themselves around them and they honestly can’t look at the site and purchase process with an unbiased eye.
  4. Wrong testers.
    Often, the only testers of the site are the QA team, who quickly fall victim to #3 above. Maybe there is a UAT (User Acceptance Testing) team, but they, too, have done this more than once and have lost objectivity. In reality – every major retail site needs UAT testing for each revision of a website and it should be external resources not on the company payroll and it should be different people each time.

Anyway – back to the problem at hand. The true crime in all of this is that,without being told and AFTER I ENTERED MY CREDIT CARD INFORMATION, I was forced to create an online account with them. Yes – you read that correctly. I had entered all my shipping and billing information – my credit card number as well. Then, when I think the order should be processing, I get an AJAX pop up forcing me to enter a password and password hint so I have an account if I come back later.

I didn’t ask to become a “member” of their website. I didn’t authorize them to store my PI (personal information) permanently in their membership system. I certainly didn’t authorize them to permanently store my niece’s name, address, and telephone number! I only authorized them the use of the information for an atomic transaction. At worst – this information should reside in the financial system – not their membership system!

This is among the worst of all website design and policy implementations, people. I do not wish to track my every purchase with Gap Brands. I do not want THEM to track me. And yet, they forced me to do so in order to purchase online.

And there’s NO VALUE in this membership! It’s not as if I save 5% on purchases. Its not as if the “coupons” they are invariably going to spam my inbox with aren’t available to anyone – regardless of membership. No – I am now a data byte in the marketing machine of a company with questionable ethics. Yes – I said it. Questionable ethics. They absolutely knew what they were doing when they put that forced membership option at the end of the process after you enter your credit card information.

Now I wonder if they’ve stored my credit card number as well. I’m going to go back and go through the purchase process logged in and see what it “remembers” about me. I’ll let you know what I find.

At the end of the day, folks, I urge you to stay away from Gap Brand websites until they fix their purchase process and not require a membership to purchase. At the very least they need to move the forced prompt for membership before you enter your credit card information. I did have the opportunity to bail after they forced me to create a membership – but the panic of “oh crap – I’ve already entered my CC information and it posted to their server” emotionally compelled me to complete the purchase. Besides, the membership was already created at that point!

Be savvy – don’t create memberships everywhere and boycott sites that force membership on you.

(see FollowUp Post)

About the author

Ron Sparks

Ron Sparks is a technology professional, science fiction and fantasy author and poet living in Zurich, Switzerland. His latest book "ONI: Satellite Earth Series Book 1" is available on

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Ron Sparks Author, Poet

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Ron Sparks

Ron Sparks is a technology professional, science fiction and fantasy author and poet living in Zurich, Switzerland. His latest book "ONI: Satellite Earth Series Book 1" is available on


A man of many passions, I lay claim to a myriad of interests and hobbies. Among them, I am an amateur astronomer, an avid motorcycle rider, a whiskey aficionado, a (poor) surfer, a scuba diver, a martial artist, a student of philosophy, a proponent of critical thinking, a technologist, an entrepreneur, a cancer survivor, and I harbor a lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy. Feel free to strike up a conversation on the social networks below.

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