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Insights

Mothercare: Where does it go from here?

Despite doing a lot of things incredibly well, Mothercare had a bad start to 2018. However, it might only need to change a few things to get back on the right track.

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Mothercare: Where does it go from here?

2018 wasn't great for Mothercare. In the first half of the year alone, it launched a CVA, declared a profit warning and announced plans to close over a third of its 137 stores.

Yet despite its somewhat bleak start, Mothercare is far from failing to match customer demands; it does a lot of things incredibly well. Over the last few years, it’s openly sought to deliver more of an experience to shoppers than simply just offering relevant products by establishing cafés, soft-play areas and even children’s hairdressers in store. Meanwhile, Mothercare staff are tooled up with tablets to give any information customers might need.

However, Mothercare often remains the place where parents head to research and not buy. There’s a range of factors at work here, from simple price to stock availability; some of these are conscious decisions by customers, but sadly, others are often decided for them based on their in-store experience on a given day.

If it acts fast, it can truly solidify its place as the go-to brand for parental essentials at a time when rivals are also struggling – and online-only, one-shot companies continue to dilute the marketplace.

Three members of the SHIFT Magazine team (myself included) visit Mothercare regularly, and we still plan to – and there are a few things that would have us, and thousands of others, visiting more regularly and shopping for longer. By challenging any negative perceptions of its brand head-on, Mothercare could stands to gain an incredible amount of consumer loyalty.

Mothercare can become even more experiential

Mothercare has worked hard to remove customer perceptions of it offering a purely transactional experience. As a result, it’s gradually angling itself at becoming a destination where parents feel comfortable spending time with their kids.

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However, Mothercare hasn’t quite done enough to build a cleverer long-term relationship with its core target audience: parents of young children, notably first-time parents looking for advice and support. It’s with this captive audience that it can further establish itself as a support network beyond a shop.

Some changes can be quick and easy. While it may be a minor loss-leader, it could offer free, good-quality filter coffee for all customers, reflecting the popular and effective initiative by Waitrose. Young parents can be exhausted at the best of times, so a goodwill gesture like this would go a long way, and drive footfall.

Others may take more time to put in place, but they’d certainly pay off for brand loyalty. Mothercare stores could host NCT or antenatal classes in cafés for free, while offering discounted products to attendees, and free soft play areas or food to other children they may already have. It’s something that has high community engagement, akin to Slimming World and Iceland - itself a partnership that sees the supermarket sell Slimming World’s products, but also promote local classes and the diet plan in store.

Fighting harder against online rivals – especially with delivery

Our recent omnichannel report underlined the importance of services such as product stock check and next-day delivery, but both are currently unavailable to Mothercare customers. For parents – especially those with younger children, for whom time is at an absolute premium – these services are critical, as convenience is exactly what they’re looking for when they’re visiting this “silver bullet” store.

It was a problem I recently ran into following an in-store product demonstration. We went in for a new pram; with the lack of online stock check, we didn’t know if the one we wanted was available, but we wanted to use and feel the product before buying it, and compare it with other models on the market. After making our decision with the great help of a member of staff, we were told Mothercare only had the demo in store, and we’d have to order it for delivery or next-day click and collect. Neither worked, given we were working the next day, and Mothercare was miles from our house.

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A cursory check on Amazon had the pram at the same price, via Prime, on next-day delivery. Argos had it too, for a little more money, and it was in stock and available for immediate pick-up. What’s more, Argos was on the same shopping park. For the sake of ease, we went with the latter – and while Mothercare certainly helped us that day, it was unable to close the sale.

We weren’t offered an incentive to reserve or get this high-ticket item from Mothercare; it wasn’t prepared to budge on price, or give us free premium home delivery, as the option of bargaining wasn’t there. And all the while it was helping us, other businesses that could convert a sale were going without assistance.

This flexibility will also give Mothercare a means of overcoming online-only, “here today gone tomorrow”-style competitors which offer better (if not best) prices on stock – and these rivals are something it can further combat with demonstrable knowledge to inspire loyalty with consumers.

Championing expertise in a noisy market

Parenting, like fashion or technology, goes through fads. As a result, it’s often hard for newer parents to identify what’s a personal choice, what’s an absolute necessity, and if something gives them value for money in their circumstances.

Most of the time, new mums and dads speak with close friends or family members, read books, or check out online resources. However, each one can be different, or often not that helpful (my wife and I often found that on Mumsnet – which commands such SEO power that it’s ranked first for many questions – the number-one answer to a lot of questions was “I don’t know, but…”).

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Mothercare has a real-life, face-to-face opportunity to use its sales data – and the feedback of its customers – to help them make truly informed decisions, gathering the voice of thousands and channelling it into one expert opinion. Mothercare can champion customer opinions through useful, and perhaps incentivised, surveys on several important things:

  • Product preferences, e.g. sleeping: cots, moses baskets, cribs
  • Techniques for settling babes
  • Weaning classes, where products could be demonstrated

By using an omnichannel approach to gather the thoughts of its shoppers across a variety of methods, this data can then be used to respond to demands; it could improve the sorts of experiences Mothercare offers in-store, from handily-timed product demonstrations akin to toy showcases at Hamleys, to hosting talks on issues that concern parents the most.

Whether these seminars ultimately tie up with sellable products, or simply offer a free, trustworthy expert to talk with Mothercare shoppers, this service will continue to make Mothercare a valuable resource to learn new things and network with fellow parents and guardians.

We don’t want to see a brand like Mothercare disappear from our high streets, but if it is to survive in the long term, there must be a focus on offering unrivalled service to its customer base. By building that loyalty over a sustained period, it can then be harnessed to shape the future of the business, by speaking to its most valuable asset: the customer.

Insights

The art of the possible: Nordstrom Local

In our first focus on businesses doing great things, we look at the huge strides being made by American department store giant Nordstrom, as it targets an online-favouring audience with its new Local retail concept.

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The art of the possible: Nordstrom Local

Omnichannel was far from a buzzword in 2018 – it’s a model that businesses are striving to implement, and for all the right reasons. However, most companies still have a major disconnect between online and physical stores, with little or no link between these sales channels.

In the US, one department store chain is taking huge, positive strides to break free from the trends that are hurting its rivals. While there may be impending bankruptcy for Sears, and as JCPenney continues to cut costs to remain competitive, Nordstrom is going from strength to strength on its mission to modernise, and unite its online and offline audiences.

The Seattle-based operator of over 350 stores across North America is already seeing the fruits of its labours, courtesy of a strategy that moves the brand away from the huge, monolithic units that department stores are forever associated with – the type of real estate that has spelled the end for so many companies before it.

To buck the negative trends in bricks-and-mortar retail, Nordstrom launched its Nordstrom Local retail store concept in 2017, in a move that seeks to revolutionise the retail store shopping experience. These pared-down locations aim to bring a smaller, more agile version of Nordstrom to its loyal customers, and it hopes to make relationships with a new breed of consumer along the way.

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What is Nordstrom Local all about?

To get a grasp on an increasingly online-focused customer, Nordstrom has created a space that acts as a natural extension of ecommerce, but on the high street – while also adopting a model which can gather data to further enhance the experience these customers demand. This resulted in Nordstrom Local, a concept store on Melrose Place, Los Angeles, just a stone’s throw from Hollywood and the Sunset Strip.

The crux of the idea came from the company’s understanding that its customers preferred to shop online but wanted to pick up their goods in person – to ensure they were just right for them. Alongside a boutique store experience, it offers a range of complementary and considered services, with a bottom line on convenience, personalisation, comfort and speed, regardless of the occasion or requirement:

  • A free personal stylist service, “with zero pressure”, giving a bespoke consultation and curating the right look for you.
  • On-site tailors make your chosen clothing even more bespoke, offering a wide range of changes to clothing bought in store or online for free (providing it was bought at full price). If you didn't buy something at Nordstrom but it needs adjusting, they’ll still help for a fee.
  • A click and collect service with a twist: You can pick up an order in store, or a member of staff can walk it out to your car with “Curbside Pickup”.
  • Same-day delivery of in-stock items, for a flat rate of $15 per order.
  • An incredibly deluxe returns policy: All Nordstrom return orders (online or store-bought) can be given back at Nordstrom Local, or exchanged; all other businesses offering online returns will also be shipped by Nordstrom Local for free (if that’s the other company’s policy), or a flat rate of $5. Nordstrom will even provide the box, then email a tracking number.
  • A nail bar, on an appointment or drop-in basis, whether you’re waiting for clothing alterations or simply looking for a new look.
  • Local beer, wine or juice if you’re looking to relax during your appointments.

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What are the benefits to Nordstrom’s customers – and the industry?

What must be underlined is that Nordstrom is not trying to reinvent the wheel. On every level, and with every product or service you get as soon as you walk through its doors (or get passed through your car window, if you’re getting Curbside Pickup), all of it is perfectly understandable at a common-sense level. Nordstrom looked at what it was good at, looked at what the internet was good at, and took some time to stitch the two together. As a result, it created an old-school approach that has all the hallmarks of a high street from the past, where you could get everything you needed in the space of a short walk.

The Nordstrom Local idea proves that by offering locally complementary services without diverting too far away from the core business – a sort of “kill more than one bird with one stone (minimum)” approach – it will attract more people into store. The services listed above are simple extensions of things people have come to expect: delivery options, click and collect, and styling that goes beyond the rack.

Yet it’s the access to human knowledge that Nordstrom is particularly pushing with this concept. The company knows it, or its competitors, can’t match face-to-face personalised expertise on an ecommerce platform. Online look-books and inspirational content may work to a degree, while dozens of companies are experimenting with heavily optimised customer data, but this can never be a match for free consultations, which also happen to make a consumer feel very special indeed.

And if you’re not the type of person comfortable with customised clothing picks, or shopping in store, you’ll at least be able to pick them up at Nordstrom Local and get customised tailoring to perfect your own chosen look. For free.

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There’s also a logical paradox for a standard customer seeing this Nordstrom Local for the first time. On first glance, many might be tempted to criticise it as a concept built with the LA customer in mind. Beverly Hills, one of the country’s most affluent cities, is just a few streets away. The store’s many options aren’t currently expected nor even demanded elsewhere; everything present at the Melrose Place unit is reflective of the culture and demands of the higher-end customer you’d expect to find in the Hollywood Hills.

Yet its services are free and are universally beneficial to the modern customer, who really has nothing to lose by dropping into Nordstrom Local – even an in-store upsell would be tailored to them (literally, if they want it).

Sure, the Nordstrom experience may still only work in certain places – like big cities with huge captive markets to provide the correct ROI to offset the services it offers for free – but as people come to experience this level of service, it could lead to a revolution in demand. Regional customisation may only need to be cosmetic, or a case of changing something more popular in LA than, say, Tulsa: swapping the pressed juice bar for a coffee shop, or putting a lower price on same-day delivery.

Ultimately, this focus on a customer’s value of time and money is a strategy that puts Nordstrom at the heart of urban or suburban community, offering an indispensable hub that slots into place whether locals are loyal to the brand or not. The key to long-term success is in the venture’s name: to paraphrase the League of Gentlemen, it’s a local shop for local people.

What’s next for Nordstrom?

Nordstrom’s profits, while taking a hit this year due to an aggressive expansion north of the border in Canada, continue to look positive. Its Columbus Circle, NYC venture – a sort of “Nordstrom Local XL” – reflects this business confidence. In another demonstration of forward thinking, this men’s fashion concept was described by GQ as “shopping online, only in real life”.

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While it may be a shock to many, this new store is Nordstrom’s first in New York City, despite getting one across the Hudson in New Jersey nearly 30 years ago. While it secured the space in 2012, it spent six years perfecting the format – and even now, it only caters to half of the city’s inhabitants (a women’s Nordstrom will follow in 2019).

But they say that good things come to those who wait. While Nordstrom might’ve sacrificed a few years’ worth of Big Apple bucks – and while its Local concept is yet to show longer-term success – its future plans look more sustainable and successful than any of its rivals, and it’s something we can’t help but applaud them for.

All it took was a constantly evolving test environment in LA to test the market to confirm its hunch: people love a seamless shopping experience.