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.
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.
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…”).
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.