“Congratulations Mrs Morris, you’re three month’s pregnant”
said the Doctor, and promptly handed us a ‘Pregnancy Information Folder’ from the Bounty Parenting Club.
“That’s fantastic news,”, I thought, “one of the happiest moments of my life; there’s a type of loyalty programme I haven’t seen before.”
I figured from that moment on, partnerships would be lined up with all the relevant retailers, to guide us through the alien process of buying all the things we need to prepare our home for the new arrival.
And once home, I began to study the Bounty pack (which incidentally, has absolutely nothing in common with tropical coconut wrapped in chocolate (I know- I was surprised too) and there were a few obvious nappy-related promotions but little from the high street. I thought it was quite interesting that Bounty have their distribution sewn up for every pack:
- The Pregnancy Information Folder (from your Healthcare Professional)
- Mum to Be Pack (Superdrug/Boots)
- Mum’s Pack (Hospital- Labour Ward)
- Newborn Pack (Hospital – Maternity Ward)
- Family Pack (Superdrug or Boots)
The idea isn’t a new one; Bounty packs have been around since 1959, which is almost as long as the chocolate bar. And it just goes to show; when you haven’t been exposed to the world of babies before; there is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered. And that brings me, in a round about way, to Mothercare.
With no direct experience in the child-raising sector, we were at a real loss to know what we needed to buy.
We were drawn, like a calling to a new cult to visit the temple of Mothercare, in Reading. We thought this church of baby care might give us the answers we were looking for and lead to a rich and fulfilling life.
Now Mothercare might be new to me, but it has been around since 1961 and so has had much more time than I have to adapt to the market. Clearly if you look at their trading figures, they have been performing well, until recently. In 2010 they announced the closure of over 100 stores to reduce costs and in 2011 the poor CEO had to issue three profits warnings.
We arrived at the retail park and after a quick look at the maternity wear section, my wife was left with a minor panic that any love of fashion is pretty much put on hold for 6 months, as is any desire for natural fabrics. We had a scout about and a quick look at prams but with no staff anywhere to be seen (apart from operating tills), we left rapidly. After a recommendation from a friend, Mrs Morris took a trip to the internet and found a business called Isabella Oliver, who provide maternity wear for fashionable mums-to-be.
Jump forward six months and we’re in NCT “Parent-to-be” classes learning all about how to bring up a baby. There was some discussion with the other parents-to-be about pushchairs, cots, Moses baskets and so on, with the mention of brands I’ve never bought and stores I’d never visited. It’s like a whole area of the high street has just appeared overnight.
And that got me thinking. Where’s Mothercare in this process? If I was marketing Mothercare, what would I be doing differently?
Someone told me recently that research shows expectant mums purchase nearly all their maternity wear within a 4/5 week period. The purchase of other high-cost items, such as pushchairs, cots and baby clothing for the first 3 months are also bought within a very short timeframe.
So if I were Mothercare, I’d definitely want to work hard to be involved in this process, and Bounty represents the earliest opportunity to communicate with an expectant mum:
“Congratulations from Mothercare. Here’s £25 to spend in our stores on your first visit”
would be a great place to start. Mums would have to register to receive the reward, thus showing Mothercare the small window in which they need to work if they are going to receive any share of their spend.
They could tie this in with their online Baby&Me club which I couldn’t see any mention of in store.
It’s really important for retailers who know there is a limited selling window to do their utmost to capture contact information wherever they can, and understand the ‘key commercial question’- in this case, obviously, ‘When is your baby due?’
Perhaps we could go further than that:
“Congratulations from Mothercare. Book your free personal appointment with one of our experienced advisers and there is a gift bag waiting for you”
(Mamas & Papas offer this already). The advisers would be trained to give expectant parents a briefing on the essential items they need to buy and optional items that, in their experience, might be ‘nice to have’. What’s Isofix and can an Isofix seat fit in my car? When do I need a cot and if I have I cot, do I need a Moses basket too? A mini booklet (or a tear-off sheet to take away- the newborn’s checklist) could help answer some of these questions, but if the sales advisor showed all the options in store on a tablet (iPad), it would enhance the customer’s experience and also enable Mothercare to rapidly launch some targeted email promotions to get that share of wallet.
What else? I’m starting to learn that there are some really strong niche players in this space that mums-to-be all know and love. Brands such as Pacapod, Bugaboo, Quinny and iCandy are often the default purchase. And in a survey across a small group of mums, Mothercare just isn’t involved- either carrying a lack of stock (choice of one Pacapod) or pricing themselves higher than the competition such as John Lewis. However pricing and merchandising are not my area of expertise. I’ll stick to marketing.
Let’s explore the competitive space. Retailers that are taking mother & baby revenue from Mothercare include Jojo Maman Bebe, The White Company, Baby Gap and Mamas & Papas. They are also losing revenue to some of the etailers (& mail order), like Isabella Oliver, Very and Vertbaudet. Also selling baby stuff, we mustn’t forget John Lewis, Next, Tesco, Primark and Marks & Spencer.
Some of these competitors have a very small retail footprint and could be argued to perform better than Mothercare within a smaller space. I wonder whether Mothercare could trial some guest popup’s within their huge superstores- and appear from the outside to be more like a department store- “the home of everything you need for your baby from some of the UK’s most exciting brands”. By introducing the Early Learning brand to their stores (which they bought in 2007 for £85 million), they could be seen to have made a step in this direction already.
And the market for baby designer goods is growing too. I remember from some research we found for a client that on average, every child in the UK owns at least one piece of designer clothing and that is growing rapidly. Gucci, Burberry and Paul Smith are brands that are often associated with this emerging sector. A mini-designer clothing store within the store could be good for gifts and also lift the whole shopping experience, adding a corner of aspiration and glamour.
So to summarise my brief marketing audit:
1. Customer acquisition: the Bounty offer
2. Growing transaction value: the personal appointment
3. Data capture: the iPad checklist / Baby&Me integration
1. Partnerships: Open popup branded concessions
2. Customer experience: The designer corner
Mothercare are clearly working hard (look at the Baby Centre website and you’ll see they own the entire retail channel) but perhaps there are some easy ways to engage with new customers that are being overlooked.
About our Marketing Audits
Johnny is the Managing Director of Strand, a retail-focused marketing agency. Strand offers a marketing audit service for retailers- an intensive look at their marketing activities and answer key questions:
- What marketing opportunities can be found within your data?
- How do your customers respond to your marketing activity?
- What do your staff think you are missing?
- What would we do if we were you?