As the clocks went back and the temperature dropped last weekend, I headed to my local retail park to buy a new duvet for my son. I left disappointed – finding nowhere that sold a decent selection of children’s bedding – and caught myself wishing there was a Mothercare nearby.
And yet, if I think about my experiences of shopping in Mothercare over the years, it has been patchy at best. I have struggled to find staff in the vast stores, and the last one I visited was on the brink of closing down, so there were only a few dusty items left.
The digital experience has not been much better. The mobile site has been at times frustratingly slow, and the depth of product online frequently falls short: the search results show several out-of-stock options.
If these experiences have been shared by the rest of its customers, no wonder Mothercare has struggled. It faces stiff competition from retailers such as H&M, Primark and Zara, whose kidswear offers are on trend and typically better value for money, while Amazon can deliver bedding, bottles and baby wipes overnight – why would shoppers put up with a sub-standard experience at Mothercare?
On 4 November, Mothercare filed notice of its intention to appoint administrators to its UK business, which has been unprofitable for years.
However, I am reluctant to write off Mothercare just yet. When it gets it right, it offers parents a welcoming shopping environment and feeling of belonging to a community. Its 2am Club Facebook group for parents up feeding babies in the middle of the night is a case in point.
Mothercare’s smaller-format store in Westfield Stratford City offers a glimpse of what an alternative future could look like for the retailer. Whereas some of its large-format stores are tired and lacking in shop floor staff, Westfield Stratford lets Mothercare’s product mix shine. It offers a far superior experience, and came top in our Hit or Miss review of high street kidswear retailers in May.
Mothercare was once the trusted place to shop for parents. If it can recapture some of that brand equity in a smaller, more intimate environment, supported by a more polished digital experience, it could start to claw back some of its market share.
*This article was updated on 4 November