Troubled high streets have suffered another blow as US-based retailer Gap confirmed it will axe all of its 81 UK and Ireland stores.
The announcement comes in stark contrast to the fortunes of rival Primark, whose owner Associated British Foods (ABF) revealed surging sales as the discount retailer saw strong post-lockdown demand.
GAP’s UK operations have struggled in recent years and seen the impact of pandemic closures deliver the fatal blow.
Last year, the retail giant said it would review the future of its store business in the UK and Ireland.
Last month, it confirmed plans to shut 19 sites but has now said all 81 of its locations will shutter by the end of September.
The first 19 stores will close at the end of this month as their leases expire.
Gap has said it is now starting its consultation process for affected staff but would not confirm employee numbers.
It added it would provide “support and transition assistance” to colleagues following the closures.
The retailer has been active in the UK since 1987 and has had stores in the Republic of Ireland since 2006.
The announcement comes following a strategic review aimed at “finding new, more cost-effective ways to maintain a presence and serve customers in Europe”.
In a statement, Gap said: “In the United Kingdom and Europe, we are going to maintain our Gap online business.
“The e-commerce business continues to grow and we want to meet our customers where they are shopping.
“We’re becoming a digital-first business and we’re looking for a partner to help drive our online business.
“Due to market dynamics in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, we shared with our team today that we are proposing to close all company-operated Gap Specialty and Gap Outlet stores in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland in a phased manner from the end of August through the end of September 2021.
“We are thoughtfully moving through the consultation process with our European team, and we will provide support and transition assistance for our colleagues as we look to wind down stores.”
Elsewhere, competitor Primark has hailed “several new sales records” as it said like-for-like sales were above pre-pandemic levels over the past quarter.
Owner ABF revealed that sales for the retailer hit £1.6 billion for the 16 weeks to June 19, “reflecting an increase in both confidence and willingness to spend by our customers”.
The company added that it has continued to push forward with store opening and investment plans across the UK and Europe despite the impact of lockdowns.
Meanwhile, another rival, H&M, also struck a more upbeat tone with its own update on Thursday.
The Sweden-based firm said it delivered better-than-expected profits after a rebound in sales, but said it was still trading below pre-pandemic levels.
H&M reported a pre-tax profit of 3.59 billion Swedish krona (£300 million) for the past quarter, rebounding from a loss in the same period last year.
The retailer also told shareholders that there are “very good prospects” that it will reinstate dividend payments as a result.
“As more and more people are vaccinated and restrictions are eased, the world is gradually opening up and customers can once again visit our stores,” said Helena Helmersson, chief executive of the Stockholm-based company.
“With the combination of much-appreciated collections, rapid adaptation and further improvements, our recovery is strong.”