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Crying out for action

Posted by: Fred Burt on May 29, 2011

Mothercare announced last week that it is closing a quarter of its U.K. stores in the next two years. Notwithstanding a shift to e-tailing, this is as clear a sign as any that its brand is not working. This is a real shame because there is a massive market out there and the brand could play a significant role in a market where the consumer drivers are fairly evident.

First, there’s the element of unfamiliarity. New parents have little idea what to do and need all the hand-holding and emotional support they can get.

Second, there’s the risk. Little Johnny or Jenny is the most precious thing in the world, and any design misfire like a loose button or a breakable toy is not just annoying, it’s potentially life threatening

Third, you have fast change. Kids grow out of clothes, toys, and other paraphernalia -- and at a commercially attractive speed. In fact, it’s a parenting badge of honor to say that your kid out-grew his shoes in half the allotted time, as it suggests that he/she is healthy.

Finally, there’s the issue of time. Parents’ free time barely exists so any brand that can address the above worries in a convenient way is going to be loved with almost the same.

Mothercare should be cleaning up here. But Gap and M&S are the go-to brands for the baby shower set. Similarly, niche premium players like JoJo Maman Bebe and Petit Bateau are flourishing. Meanwhile Mumsnet is doing a great job at creating a community galvanized by these factors. It recently edited Mother’s Something For The Weekend newsletter and its ambition is there for all to see.

Mothercare has to do something fast or a big competitor will take the U.K. market by the scruff of its neck and take market share quickly. Baby K by Myleene Klass looks like a step in the right direction, but there’s lots more Mothercare could do, such as doing more to stratify its offer or creating a digital community that takes on Mumsnet (as opposed to charging parents £2 for Gurgle).

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