Gap blocks access to site and sales on ‘Black Friday’

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Gap blocks access to site and sales on ‘Black Friday’

Clothing retailer Gap and its affiliated apparel makers are at the center of a controversy after they blocked users in Korea from accessing its U.S. Web site ahead of “Black Friday,” a day of huge sales promotions and chaotic behavior the day after Thanksgiving. Since Thursday, Korean consumers who tried to connect to Gap’s site (www.gap.com) or those of its affiliated brands such as Old Navy, Banana Republic and Piperlime were met with a message informing them that access is denied.

The U.S.-based company is yet to officially comment on why it has cut off the connection to servers in Korea, but industry watchers suspect the local importer may have complained to Gap headquarters as its sales would be hurt by consumers ordering directly from the U.S. online.

Others speculate that Gap may have intentionally blocked the site out of concern that Korean buyers would snap up too many discounted items. Gap’s baby clothes are known to be especially popular among Korean housewives.

This is the second year in a row that Gap has blocked access to the site on this day. “I can’t understand why Gap is discriminating against Koreans,” one netizen wrote on Naver.

Gap’s products have been officially imported to Korea through Shinsegae International since 2007, but local consumers complain that local retail prices are too high, which has prompted many to seek cheaper items by the brand online. Despite the international shipping fee, consumers claim it is still a cheaper way of shopping for Gap clothing.

More Koreans are believed to be buying Gap products online in the wake of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect early this year. According to the pact, local consumers don’t have to pay taxes on items worth less than $200. The rule applies to any product shipped from the U.S., even those made in a third country. Some local netizens have been getting around the ban by using virtual private networks to access proxy servers.

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr ]

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