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How might we learn from Mothercare?

Harriet Nicholson
Harriet Nicholson
Strategy Lead 8 Nov 20194 minutes read

Harri Nicholson, Strategy Lead, explores how retailers can stay relevant for today's new parents.

Another week, another high street retailer in administration. On Tuesday, mum and baby high street stalwart Mothercare announced the end of its UK retail arm, with a loss of over 2,800 jobs. Blighted by high prices, expansive retail spaces and slow online fulfilment, Mothercare has been undercut by pure plays on price and convenience. Fashion retailers and general merchandisers have chipped away at Mothercare’s clothing sales, offering more trend-led and budget-friendly maternity and kids wear ranges. Homeware retailers have done much the same in the nursery furniture category. As the company lost ground, even its brand name failed to keep pace with a changing market. Is ‘Mothercare’ appropriate in our ‘sharenthood’ times, when dads can also spot a Bugaboo Cameleon at fifty feet? I don’t think so.

While Mothercare has long lost its relevance, its absence leaves a hole. As a new parent, you find yourself in the bizarre position of being plonked into an entirely new consumer category overnight. Very, very quickly you have to get up to speed with a dizzying multitude of new products and brands. Once you’ve got that bundle of joy, you need to know your sleep suits from your body suits. Your Maxi Cosis from your Joies. You need to be well-versed in the merits of a Dr Brown teat, a Tommee Tipee Perfect Prep, an Angel Bath, a Munchkin Miracle 360. When a pram sets you back upwards of £400, you need to make a damn good choice. And trust me, when you pick poorly, you regret it on every single use. (We bought the Hummer H2 of prams. It was roughly the weight of a baby elephant and the width of a small tank. I once lodged it in between two rails of t-shirts in H&M. Staff were called. Coat hangers were broken. Clothing was lost to the muddied underside of my pram’s tractor tyres. Not ideal.) In short, bewildered new parents need guidance navigating their terrifying new reality.

so how do new parents shop?

New parents resort to a fascinating blend of old school and new methods to get up to speed – at speed – with parenting paraphernalia. According to Global Web Index analysis, even in our digital times TV remains the number one channel for new parents’ brand discovery, with word of mouth coming in at a close second. To validate recommendations from analogue channels, new parents turn online. Search and social lead for product research, followed by consumer review sites and discount sites.

While research behaviours and purchase cycles vary for certain products, we see interesting research activity for ‘must-have’ solutions to address challenging issues, such as interrupted sleep. For example, searches for ‘sleepyhead’ – a pricey baby sleeping pillow, spike between the hours of midnight and 6.30am, while ‘MAM dummy’ searches peak between 4 and 6am. We see similar patterns for ‘Dr Brown Bottle’, ‘Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep’ and ‘Teething granules’. Bleary eyed, parents are researching solutions for problems they’re experiencing in real-time.

SO WHAT CAN WE LEARN?

So parents seek recommendations from trusted sources. They’re extensive researchers, sometimes desperately seeking solutions for problems they’re facing in the moment. How can retailers respond? 

Product discovery requires awareness-driving activity to breed familiarity. While investment in brand building activations is important, endorsement from trusted sources is also key. Retailers could use their retail space to host baby group meet-ups, driving peer-to-peer conversation and word of mouth product recommendations.

Our new parents are extensive researchers via search and social channels. Retailers need to invest not only in optimising content for Google search rankings, but also to cater to vertical search behaviours on Amazon, Facebook and Instagram. Retailers can equally capitalise on antisocial research behaviours with round the clock support for sleep deprived parents. Flighting social advertising at night time, supporting sites with 24/7 reassuring chatbots could go some way to tackle the 3am delirium. Frictionless mobile buying experiences, simple online checkouts, timely discounting and rapid delivery will also help tip new parents into purchase.   

In the meantime, we bid a sad farewell to a retailer that has helped many dazed new parents get to grips with their brave new world.  

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