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Mothercare tops charts in Drapers' kidswear review

Mothercare

Drapers has extended its Hit or Miss review of high street retailers to childrenswear for the first time this season, and put the spring 19 offer at Westfield Stratford City to the test.

Children grow out of clothes quickly, so value for money is a key measure for this market. The top scorers managed to balance durable, good-quality and attractive designs with keen pricing. Mothercare’s mix of own brand and collaborations stood out, as did Zara’s balance of grown-up yet age-appropriate styles.

The specialist retailers largely outshone the generalists when it came to customer service, although Monsoon fared well in this area. In too many stores, customer service was nonexistent to the point of awkwardness – I repeatedly tried to catch the eye of shop assistants, only to be ignored.

I was also surprised by the lack of thought that had gone into the experience for young children in these stores. A few toys would go a long way towards entertaining them while their parents shopped. 

As in adults’ clothing, sustainability messaging is creeping into many children’s departments. Several retailers promoted sustainably sourced cotton. However, more could be made of the sustainable collections as consumer awareness continues to grow. 

One disappointment was the lack of a multichannel experience. Many of the shop assistants disappeared off to a distant stockroom to check for alternative sizes, and some seemed surprised when I enquired about ordering online.

Overall, although there was plenty of lovely product in the mix – some of it achingly cute – the childrenswear experience from most high street retailers could be much improved. 

Stores were tested and ranked on product, presentation, value for money, customer service and the overall shopping experience. Each category was marked out of five to give each retailer a total score out of 25. Stores were visited on 24 April.

Scores

Mothercare 21/25

Mamas & Papas 20/25

Next 20/25

Zara 17.5/25

Monsoon 17/25

The White Company 17/25

H&M 15.5/25

Lindex 15.5/25

Primark 15/25

Marks & Spencer 14/25

River Island 21/25

Gap 11/25

 

Mothercare 21/25

A calm environment and lovely mix of product set this experience apart

  • Product: 4.5
  • Presentation: 4.5
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 5

Mothercare spring 19

Mothercare’s relatively small windows are kept simple. There are two buggies on one side of the entrance and a smattering of childrenswear on the other. Two mannequins stand in front of a British summertime diorama showing a mix of sunshine and rain. It is cute, if not the most attention-grabbing display.

A staff member smiles warmly as I enter, and leaves me to browse before later offering assistance. The store is smaller than the average Mothercare, and this works in its favour: there is still a broad choice, yet it feels intimate. 

Mothercare’s own-brand offer is good quality. Prices can be higher than the high street generalists, but they are balanced with cheaper basics and mix-and-match offers. 

I’m not sure where the boyswear ends and girlswear begins. The genderless approach is commendable, but makes it a bit harder to shop.

In boyswear, £10.50 for chino shorts is more expensive than Primark, but cheaper than Gap – and the design is elevated by a subtle red stitching detail on the fly and belt loops. I like the “Whale hello there” slogan on a multipack of nautical-themed T-shirts (£11.50 for three). For girls, a pretty red broderie anglaise dress with bow detail is £19.50, but could double up as everyday or occasionwear, so is not bad value. 

Mothercare carves out a point of difference from the fairly homogenised kidswear offer elsewhere through its long-running collaborations with Myleene Klass and Jools Oliver. Although these can get lost in the larger-format Mothercare stores, here they shine. 

The Myleene Klass collection focuses on a palette of red, white and black, which makes it stand out from the own-brand offer, but Jools Oliver’s Little Bird collection is the highlight. A two-pack of baby bodysuits, one in a rainbow print and the other in a matching stripy design, are lovely – albeit pricey at £12.50. However, Mothercare’s own brand offers plain white versions at £3.50 to £4.50 for a pack of three.

Toys dotted among the clothes are a nice upselling touch. The store is well staffed and, although the assistant I speak to cannot find the size I need in the stockroom, she brings me an alternative. However, she does not suggest checking the website. 

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Mamas & Papas 20/25

Superb customer experience and an attractive store suit the premium price tag 

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 5
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 4

Mamas & Papas spring 19

I’m struck by the lack of children’s clothing in the double-height windows of Mamas & Papas, although I can see rails of kidswear within. The retailer instead focuses on bigger-ticket items such as buggies and nursery furniture in its displays. A large personal shopping sign is attention-grabbing, but could do a better job of selling the service by describing which categories it applies to.

Inside, an assistant makes a point of greeting me and offering help. When I ask about sizes of an item, she advises me, then tells me her name so I can come back to her if I have any other questions. Pink signs for the mid-season Sale are subtle. 

My attention is caught by a lace cap-sleeve romper (£22), which a sign above tells me is a bestseller. It is pricey for babywear, but the quality and lace detailing are enough to make it acceptable value for money. 

At £16 full price, a boys’ tropical print shirt is much more expensive than a similar style at Primark – but a 25% off promotion takes the edge off. There is a nice option to co-ordinate the shirt with matching shorts (£12).

Like Mothercare and The Little White Company, Mamas & Papas cleverly mixes other categories such as toys, play mats and nursery equipment among the clothing rails. It could have more fun with this – it is not as impactful as The Little White Company’s merchandising, which sells the complete aspirational lifestyle. A range of christening gifts shows Mamas & Papas recognises that this is what drives many people into the store.

The music is gentle, and the shop is bright, welcoming and clean. 

The same member of staff who greeted me at the front checks for alternative sizes on the system – no running off to a distant stockroom – and when I’m ready, serves me at the till.

She offers to wrap the items free of charge. Throughout, she is chatty and friendly, and I leave feeling like a valued customer. 

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Next 20/25

An easy-to-shop, well-stocked store that offers good value for money

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 5
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 4

Next spring 19

Kidswear sits beside adults’ clothing in the main window display and is quite modest – there are just three mannequins, all in girlswear, wearing pretty pinks, white and denim. They are attractively accessorised, which shows off the breadth of the offer, but it is disappointing not to see the equally strong boyswear represented. 

A reflective sheet of yellow perspex behind the mannequins looks a bit grubby, which cheapens the overall effect. 

The childrenswear section is clearly signposted, and the large space is pleasant – the lighting is bright but soft, there are plants dotted around, and wooden frames and panelling add to the natural feel. Campaign shots are printed on canvas, which elevates the display. 

The clothing is clearly divided by age, and the department is clean and tidy, even when product is laid out on tables. There is a large selection, but the merchandising is cohesive – polo shirts are grouped together in one place, T-shirts in another. It is easy to shop.

In girlswear, a cotton unicorn-patterned smock dress for £12 catches my eye, as does an embroidered floral denim skirt – a steal at £9. I spot a whale-printed romper set, but it is not available in the size I need. An assistant does not know if I can order it online or find it in another store, which I’m surprised at in this multichannel era. She suggests asking at the till, but there is a queue so I give up.

In boyswear, it is good to see Next experiment with colour alongside the more classic pieces, including some flashes of neon. Again, prices are generally at the affordable end of the scale – a printed T-shirt is £5. The suiting section for boys is larger than River Island’s and Monsoon’s, and a good-quality navy checked jacket, trousers and waistcoat (with shirt and tie) are OK value at a combined £88 to £113.

An assistant asks if I need help and goes to check if the waistcoat is available in a smaller size. It is not, but he advises me on where to find alternatives in store and is friendly.

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Zara 17.5/25

Product is fashionable, fresh and fun, if not the easiest to shop

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 2
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 3.5

Zara spring 19

The front of Zara’s Westfield Stratford City store is welcoming and large pillars give it a premium feel. However, there is no hint from the outside that it sells childrenswear, despite the large department that lies within.

Inside, small signs next to the lift and escalator point me upstairs. I am struck by how chic the section looks compared with some of the other shops I visit. The whole area is bright and attractive, and the kidswear mannequins are surrounded by wooden frames accentuated by strip lighting, which draw the eye.

I am not greeted and at first there is no sign of staff in the relatively busy department. Unlike other retailers, the space is not clearly sectioned by age or gender, apart from the baby section. This makes it hard to shop – it is a big department and I have no idea where to start.

That said, once I start browsing, I find a lot of lovely product. A pretty floral blue-edged dress with ruffle neck is good value at £22.99 for girls aged five to 14 and accessorised with an on-trend cross-body woven bag, with strappy sandals placed below. 

A pair of shorts (£16.99) ticks off the lemon print trend and is well merchandised next to a neon yellow dress (£22.99). A coral linen version hangs nearby. 

There is ample choice in boyswear, and my eye is caught by a light blue shuttlecock print shirt (£9.99). 

All offer acceptable value for money.

There is a good mix of prints, and I like the fact that Zara does not adhere to the traditional blue for boys and pink for girls. Thought has gone into the merchandising, and similar or complementary tones are brought together.

The shelving units are a bit messy and I spot a top discarded on the floor. Staff seem to be busy. When I approach one assistant, she is friendly but sends me off to look for an item near the cash desk, which I cannot find. When I go to the till, I am the first to speak and the big screen behind the woman serving me is distracting and intense.

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Monsoon 17/25

Some lovely girlswear and good service, but the boys’ offer is easy to miss

  • Product: 3.5
  • Presentation: 3.5
  • Customer service: 4
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 3

Monsoon spring 19

A small kidswear window display shows a selection of pretty girlswear. The mannequins are simply dressed, with footwear just in view – a missed opportunity to upsell the shoes and accessories. A large “30% off childrenswear” window sticker is obtrusive, but not off-putting. 

Inside, there is a big sign for the kidswear section at the back, behind the womenswear. It is a relatively small space and at first glance appears to only contain girlswear. However, as I turn I see a wall of boyswear behind me. A rail is blocking my path, but a member of staff later moves it. 

For girls, there is a large selection of occasionwear dresses suitable for summer weddings and events. Most are very flouncy and traditional – it is a princess’s paradise. A pretty appliqué floral dress catches my eye, and the detailing goes some way towards justifying the hefty £55 price tag. 

There is also a decent amount of casual clothing for girls, including rompers (£18 to £20) and an on-trend lemon print dress (£22). The clothing is complemented by a little treasure trove of hair clips and other accessories on a table at the front. 

In the limited boyswear section there is a smattering of suiting. A blue waistcoat, trousers, shirt and tie are not bad value at £55, or £95 including the matching jacket, but there is more choice at Marks & Spencer and Next. Casualwear sits alongside, but it’s not a comprehensive offer and, to my mind, Monsoon would be better off focusing on girlswear to maximise the limited space.

The kidswear section is not clearly divided by age and the first item I pick up doesn’t come in the size I need, which is frustrating. However, a proactive member of staff approaches me, asks if she can help and directs me to the right section for the size ranges I require. She is friendly and chatty, asks what I’m shopping for so she can better advise me, and suggests a few different options that could work.

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The White Company 17/25

High-quality, minimalist product has impact but the staff lack warmth

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 3

The White Company spring 19

The White Company’s windows stick to the minimalist white and grey theme for which it is known. Not a lot of thought has gone into the childrenswear display – a couple of items are hung above a small mannequin and the all-white product gives a ghostly effect. However, an image of a cute, smiling baby and the message “The Little White Company lives here too” catches my attention. 

Inside, I am greeted by a pleasant, subtly fragrant smell, and the store looks premium. The kidswear section is small but beautifully merchandised – a sea of calm colours and soft textures. Books and soft toys are mixed in with the clothing, and it is hard to resist picking them up. 

The product is generally of high quality, and some thought has gone into their display. Playful signs hanging on some of the product catch my eye. A sign around a car motif romper and matching hat set (£24) says “Road trip”, while another on a shark pyjama set (£20 to £22) reads “Into the blue” – a cute touch. A blue dress with a delicate strawberry print exclusive to The Little White Company is lovely but pricey at £30. The selection is limited to babies and toddlers, and focuses on sleepwear and gifting. This is not where you would buy everyday clothing, but it is in line with The White Company’s premium positioning. 

A member of staff glances at me as I walk in but does not say anything, although I later hear her greet another customer. At the till two members of staff are chatting and labelling but do not speak to me. When I ask for a different size, the assistant disappears to the stockroom for a while. She brings me the right size and seems knowledgeable about the product, but is otherwise reluctant to engage in conversation. I leave feeling cold, and not because of the air conditioning.

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H&M 15.5/25

A decent product selection includes the Conscious range but staff are inattentive

  • Product: 3.5
  • Presentation: 3
  • Customer service: 2
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 3

 

H&M spring 19

As with Zara and Marks & Spencer, there is a noticeable lack of kidswear in the windows of H&M. However, when I get to the children’s section, it is massive. 

The first thing I notice are signs promoting a three-for-two offer on organic cotton basics, which are already good value at full price – a T-shirt is £2.99. However, it is not obvious that this is H&M’s sustainable collection, Conscious. 

The department is split by age, although the small boxes on which the age ranges are written are not the easiest to see, and it is unclear where each section begins and ends.

I am ignored by a small group of staff who appear to be on a training exercise. 

Overall the childrenswear section is relatively neat and the floors are clear. It feels spacious. There are some notable elements of visual merchandising and slick fittings, such as rows of exposed lightbulbs over mannequin displays that are repeated at the cash desk. 

There is ample choice for girls and boys. An on-trend reversible-sequinned T-shirt for girls is great value at £7.99 but is badly creased. It is gratifying to see reversible sequins in boyswear, too – for example, on a dinosaur T-shirt (£7.99). A white and orange pleated swing dress for girls (£14.99) is a subtler take on neon. 

Staff mill around but pay no attention to the customers. There are several harried-sounding announcements over the public address system, which are distracting and make it sound as if the H&M team is struggling.

I have to go into the fitting rooms to find a member of staff, who seems surprised to be asked a question but comes out from behind the desk to help me find what I need. 

An iPad mounted by the escalator allows customers to leave feedback, which is a nice touch, and there is a recycling box near the cash desk. However, given the rising awareness of sustainability among consumers, I cannot understand why more is not made of the Conscious collection. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

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Lindex 15.5/25

An inviting entrance and good range are let down by a lack of service

  • Product: 3.5
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 1
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 3

The impressive, double-height front of Lindex is open and kidswear is clearly visible on the mezzanine floor inside. For passers-by, there can be no mistaking that this is core to the Lindex offer, and I am immediately drawn in. 

Text on one of the campaign shots promotes Lindex’s use of 100% sustainably sourced cotton, and this messaging continues throughout the kidswear floor. The area is large and spacious. A comprehensive offer is displayed by age and coherently merchandised. There is enough product to give choice without being overwhelming.

In boyswear, a printed T-shirt is good value at £2.99 for age 18 months to eight years and available in three colourways. An on-trend “Endless vacay” T-shirt for seven to 14 years (£5.99) is reminiscent of a style in H&M. Indeed, generally the product mix and price points are similar to its Swedish rival.

In girlswear, embroidered daisy denim shorts (£14.99) usefully come in a narrow fit but are pricier than a similar style at Next. Elsewhere the trends are ticked off: a lemon print top (£9.99), a reversible-sequinned cherry T-shirt (£8.99) – all perfectly acceptable, but the offer does not stand out from better-known rivals. There are a few Sale rails dotted throughout the floor. 

Accessories are next to the queuing area for the cash desk, but as the tills are closed there is no temptation to browse. The floor is neatly arranged, but someone has dumped an unwanted pair of leggings on top of a bin of socks, and there are two plastic water bottles abandoned on a shelving unit. The sole member of staff is busy sorting clothes on a rail and does not acknowledge any of the customers, even though it is relatively quiet. 

There is an activity box on a low table for children to play with. Lindex is the only retailer I visit that provides entertainment for children while their parents shop.

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Primark 15/25

An overwhelming selection and messy store, yet Primark is unbeaten on price

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 2
  • Customer service: 2
  • Value for money: 5
  • Shopping experience: 3

Primark spring 19

Childrenwear is given space in the large windows. Six mannequins are smartly dressed in spring 19 trends – tropical print shirts for boys, off-the-shoulder dresses and co-ordinates for girls. They are only lightly accessorised, but a shelving unit in the middle displays more product, hinting at the vast range inside. Primark’s low prices are clearly displayed, while large campaign shots and a video screen make the windows dynamic. 

The large kidswear section is easy to find and I am met by a sea of clothing. The further in I walk, the messier it gets. Evidently the staff are struggling to keep up with rehanging and folding discarded product. There are dirty stools, and packaging and hangers are strewn around. 

Age ranges are clearly displayed, making it easy to shop. The girls’ section is awash with colour – bright pinks and yellows. The amount of choice is overwhelming. However, the product I noticed in the window is highlighted in store, which offers continuity. 

The off-the-shoulder dress (£10) from the window is crumpled and not as appealing close up, but daisy print co-ordinates (£6 each for the off-the-shoulder top and matching tie-waist trousers) are great value for money. 

Large unicorn and Minnie Mouse inflatables double as fun visual merchandising and add-on sales items – the latter taps into the trend for all things Disney. 

In boyswear, the low prices continue: the tropical print shirt from the window is £6 and is well merchandised with a £1.30 blue T-shirt.

A pair of chinos with an adjustable waist at £3.50 are by far the cheapest example of the style I see all day. However, I am disappointed to find a £2.50 pair of neon orange shorts is dirty. 

There is no music and I can hear the creaking escalator. A passing member of staff ignores me, although I later see her helping a customer. I manage to stop another assistant, who helps me to find a T-shirt I have seen on a mannequin and is reasonably friendly. 

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Marks & Spencer 14/25

An eerily quiet and dark childrenswear section with a mixed bag of product

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 2
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 2

Marks & Spencer spring 19

Marks & Spencer is just outside the main shopping centre, and so benefits from a full storefront with wraparound windows. However, there is no childrenswear on display.

There is a smell of chips as I walk into the womenswear department on the ground floor. Up on the second floor, kidswear has a surprisingly large amount of space, given the lack of promotion downstairs. The greasy smell lingers faintly, and the low lighting and dark flooring makes it feel dingy. There is no music and it is quiet. I am not greeted, even though two members of staff are at a shelving unit nearby discussing one of the displays.

Product is a mixed bag. There is a large school uniform section, which M&S may rely on to drive parents into store. The rest of the clothing is clearly split by age, making it easy to shop. A prominent sign for “Sun smart swimwear” catches my eye and tells me the collection offers UPF 50+ protection, is chlorine resistant and uses long-lasting Lycra. This is very reassuring for parents and a quick look at the price of a pair of well-made board shorts shows they are affordable at £10, offering good value for money. 

There is a decent boys’ suiting section, although it is not highlighted in any way, which feels like a missed opportunity. 

A white and grey striped cotton waistcoat and shorts set (with shirt and tie) and the matching jacket cost £72 to £76 in total, which is excellent value for money.

In girlswear, an attractive stand encourages outfit building around a pair of Tencel skinny jeans (£12), which come in blush pink, neon pink, light blue and white. However, elsewhere the clothing has been merchandised in an uninspiring way: a grey jumper next to a navy jumpsuit, next to a grey dress.

When I ask for help the staff member is friendly but explains that the store only stocks one style of the item I require. She suggests I look online, but appears to have no means of checking herself.

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River Island 21/25

Promising windows belie a disappointing, understaffed section

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 3
  • Customer service: 1
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 3

River Island spring 19

River Island’s is one of the more interesting window displays I come across during the day. A rabbit’s head rests on the shoulders of one of the children’s mannequins, which is dressed in a tracksuit and holds a cap. The surrounding mannequins exude a sense of cool, which would appeal to older kids – one wears an animal-print shirt that would be at home in the womenswear section. 

Inside, the signage to the children’s section is clear, and there are more mannequins at the front of it, dressed in a mix of black, grey and denim – a refreshing change from the cutesy approach elsewhere. 

It is a relatively small department, split by age. Product is packed in, but it is all hanging rather than folded messily on shelving units as seen in other stores.

Some of the product seems quite cheap and trashy. A black T-shirt with neon yellow snakeskin and diamanté detailing (£12) does not look or feel like good quality. Suede-effect bomber jackets (£32 for boys and £30 for girls) are better, but overall the product is not as appealing as in rival stores, and there is less choice. There is a rail of children’s activewear, and a sign above tells customers they can find more online – one of the few references to a retailer’s website that I see or hear all day. 

There is a messy rail next to the till and no dedicated member of staff. Assistants go in and out of a stockroom at back of the department, but none acknowledge me. 

There is some suiting for boys aged five years and above, but it is not comprehensive and there is no signage. A three-piece ecru linen suit for ages five to 12 is reasonably priced at £87, although this does not include a shirt and tie. The store is quite hot and stuffy, and I am not tempted to stay and browse.

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Gap 11/25

Uninspiring, overpriced product combined with a lack of customer service 

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 3
  • Customer service: 0
  • Value for money: 2
  • Shopping experience: 3

Gap’s narrow windows are dominated by childrenswear – checked and stripy shirts for boys, pretty floral dresses for girls. The mannequins are accessorised with jackets, jumpers over shoulders, shoes and sunglasses. There is a campaign shot in the background and a small screen to the side says there is 30% off in store. 

The department is on the mezzanine floor and is clearly signposted, but the lift is not. I eventually find it tucked behind a large womenswear display unit. Later, I see a customer leave her buggy at the bottom of stairs and carry her child up. There are no assistants to advise her that there is in fact a lift she can use.

Upstairs, a large, orange shelving unit is eye-catching and there are clearly delineated denim sections. A pair of embroidered floral jeans and matching jacket are a good choice for teenage girls, but steep at £27.95 and £39.95 respectively.

Most of the product is dull and uninspiring, and incoherently displayed. There are Gap logo hoodies (£15) at every turn. 

A reversible-sequin unicorn T-shirt (£14.95) and broderie anglaise dress (£22.95 to £32.95) are on trend, but more expensive than elsewhere on the high street. Similarly, in boyswear, a pair of stretch chino shorts are pricey at £16.95 and a simple, stripy T-shirt is £14.95. There is up to 70% off some styles, indicating that they were perhaps overpriced.

Signs hung messily on some product say “full price styles”, but seem to be part of a “full price styles, 30% off” promotion, which is confusing.

Overall, the kidswear floor is reasonably tidy, but some of the units are messy and there are chairs propping open the doors to the changing rooms, for no apparent reason. 

I see no staff at first. Later I spot an assistant moving some unused Sale signs into a store room. She does not acknowledge me as she passes. Two customers behind me are loudly discussing their confusion with the sizing, but again there is nobody to ask for help.

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