Think BR: Show mothers (and fathers) you care...
Mothercare has suffered a tough 2011 with profit warnings and falling sales. It needs to do more to get parents back on side, says Laura Furniss, development manager, Ipsos MORI.
Laura Furniss, development manager, Ipsos MORI
As Ben Gordon leaves Mothercare by "mutual consent" and group marketing director Anna James also exits, the company announced it would be looking to restructure following a second profit warning and falling share prices.
So where did it go so wrong?
In 2002, when Gordon was appointed, the chain was close to bankruptcy - and Mothercare’s share price at the time was reported to be 96p.
During his time at Mothercare the chain has seen massive international expansion with overseas sales increasing, the purchase of the Early Learning Centre in April 2007 for £85 million, and the launch of a pregnancy and parenting social networking website, Gurgle.com, in May that year.
Shares went up to 687p in January 2010, and In July that year, Mothercare bought the trademark and brand of privately owned rival Blooming Marvellous.
At the start of 2011, however, although sales were jumping internationally, the UK hit problems and a steady decline in share price ensued.
In May 2011 it was reported that Mothercare was set to close up to 110 stores across the UK in a bid to slash costs and would concentrate its efforts on out-of-town outlets, multi-channel sales and overseas expansion.
Did the company put too much focus on international expansion at this time? Possibly, but with other companies like Marks & Spencer reporting a fall in sales and profits, many high street names are having a hard time as consumer confidence continues to fall.
Whatever the cause, turnover is falling for Mothercare in the UK, and at the time of writing this article its share price is still falling.
So what can the brand do in the UK to stop falling sales and disengaged mums (and dads for that matter)? After all, with about 2000 babies being born a day in the UK, it has a pretty good supply chain of potential customers.
Kate Walsh wrote a great piece in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago in which she made the very valid point that it is now time for Mothercare to talk to mums.
Many mums who responded to her request on Netmums about thoughts on the chain share similar experiences to ones I have had.
As a young mum who uses Mothercare as her first point of call I can report that I have left the shop several times feeling uninspired.
My local in-town is not easy to negotiate with a buggy in tow and it is split over two levels, which means squeezing into an undersized lift at the back after knocking half the merchandise off shelves on the way to get to the next floor.
The out-of-town outlets do have lots of space, are easy to manoeuvre a buggy, and have some nice nursery idea layouts but I have had difficulty getting the item I wanted due to stocking levels and been told that I would need to order online.
Customer service really is one area Mothercare needs to concentrate on - when you are on the verge of a breakdown from sleep deprivation a smile goes a long way and sadly, I have numerous personal experiences of when the staff have not been able to show how a buggy on display collapses, but also have just not been particularly friendly.
Mothercare is also seems to be trying to set out its net too wide in trying to cope with the onslaught of competition in the market.
It would be interesting to know whether the Myleene Klass range (BabyK) has been commercially succesfull. I'm not sure how many mums there are out there that want their children to emulate Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus aged six months with a leatherette jacket that retails at £35.
M&S has brought down its prices down but have still managed to maintain quality and there is untold competition from supermarket chains. Mothercare's 'essentials' still seem quite expensive by comparison and it really needs to respond to mothers' pricing concerns.
And lets not forget about the dads out there who are often sent to purchase clothes for baby, clothes mums can wear while breastfeeding, and other essentials.
A conveniently placed baby care specialist stocking all these items is still in demand, with patient and experienced sales staff to calm the new parents’ nerves, which begs the question, was Mothercare right to shut so many high street stores?
With supermarkets competing on convenience and price, Mothercare would be wise to focus its attention on giving mothers and fathers its years of expertise in the market and concentrate on developing a really positive shopping experience around becoming new parents.
John Lewis is offering nursery advice, claiming to offer free, impartial advice on everything from bedding to buggies.
‘Babies "R" Us’ has responded well to the multichannel world by providing an opportunity for mums to touch, feel and understand the workings of travel systems they may have researched online and have knowledgeable staff to assist and inform.
And with Morrisons ramping up the Kiddicare integration, Mothercare needs to evaluate its next move, and fast.
It is still seen by some as an essential chain and almost a rite of passage on the journey into parenthood, and people still want to believe in the brand, so it is not too late for it to turn things around in the UK.
Without a clear focus on customer service it could find itself it the unfortunate position of being squeezed out of the expertise market, while also being squeezed on price and convenience by the supermarkets.
It needs to be very clear on its brand identity, what it stands for and how this is conveyed to the consumer.
At present it feels as though Mothercare is trying to be too many things, but not really delivering on any.
Laura Furniss, development manager, Ipsos MORI
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