The Gap has shut down its two most popular web sites prior to the Holiday season, causing headlines, presenting would-be shoppers with a none-too-friendly face, and potentially losing millions of dollars of sales.
Toby Lenk, head of Gap Inc. Direct (and longtime e-commerce pioneer, having started eToys), as one of the architects behind the change, could have chosen IBM, Blue Martini, or any number of companies to assist in the process. Instead, the year-long project was done entirely in-house, ensuring that any innovations are not easily shared with competitors. Lenk allowed that the change involved overhauling all the back-office systems used to track inventory and manage promotions.
Given that, look to Gap to have as least an eighteen-month lead over its competitors (primarily because this change was probably linked to Gap's recent store redesign). Reading between the lines, look to the software to provide Gap with the ability to leverage events in its brand new stores. Perhaps this will also lead to the issuance of actual Gap Inc. patents, which would help it eliminate unexpected payments - I believe Gap has already paid out millions of dollars - to intellectual property holders like Soverain Software LLC, who have strong protection on basic shopping cart patents.