Mothercare is fighting for survival, but what can it do to reignite consumer passion?

No doubt the chiefs at Mothercare will have been looking on anxiously as many of their high-street peers made the long, slow march towards defeat.

The latest news that Mothercare is considering entering a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) and shutting one-third of its stores to reduce costs is worrying, but if last week’s news is anything to go by, it shows that Mothercare is not giving up without a fight. 

Mark Newton-Jones has just stepped down as boss of the family retailer, making way for a fresh leadership injection from David Wood, formerly of US giant Kmart. Central to Wood’s strategy for bringing Mothercare back from the brink is to revitalise its reputation as the number-one choice for parents and restore the love and trust they once had in the brand.

After all, Mothercare should be the most important outlet on the high street – the first port of call for people bringing a baby into the world.

Gender roles have changed a little since Mothercare was founded in 1961. While we’re not suggesting that Wood sheds this much-loved moniker, he will need to work hard to make sure the brand talks to all consumers without falling into a ‘middle space’ that appeals to no one. 

From our work with buggy brand Micralite, we know that mums and dads shop very differently. Mums do a lot of bump-balancing laptop research; dads get involved in store, testing and picking out the perfect products for their mini me. So, bricks and mortar and online experiences are still both crucial.

So why are consumers falling out of love with some of the high-street old favourites? Recently, we talked to 250 marketers from long-established brands to find out. We also asked founders and CEOs from 12 of the fastest-growth start-ups out there to see what they’re doing differently. It turns out the old guard could learn a thing or two from the new – so we put it all in a report called Getting Your Mojo Back: Ten Lessons from Fast-growth Companies.

The results make interesting – and alarming – reading. For example, nearly a third of ‘legacy brand’ marketers admitted they were not customer-centric, and one in five told us they’re not responsive to their customers’ needs. 

David Wood has said that improving customer service, both in-store and online, is central to his plans (a quick look at some of the reviews Mothercare has been getting on various social media platforms reveals an urgent need…).

In a world of intense and increasing competition, where consumer feedback is ubiquitous and highly influential, failure to put the customer first is no longer an option. Research by Cornell University has shown that reviews have a direct and dramatic impact on sales – a one-star improvement on an online review platform can increase revenue by up to 39%!

Understanding your customers and putting their needs first must be a priority. Look at start-up Mush, the mums’ matchmaking app. Its founders, Sarah Hesz and Katie Massie-Taylor, saw the need for a forum that addresses parental loneliness while standing in a playground alone.

Massie-Taylor said: “We knew the need, lived the need, breathed the need.” The app has recently been valued at £3.5 million. 

Likewise, Clemmie Nettlefold, head of PR and comms at £2 million-turnover kids’ food brand Piccolo, told us during our research that staying close to and understanding your consumer makes a big difference: “I know how stressful [parenthood] is. Mums can relate to that.”

She also pointed out how important it is to listen to your customer: “You need the people who use the products day by day to be involved in making the decisions.”

Our research also revealed also just how many legacy execs thought their products and services were ‘below par’ – more than 20%. A cause for concern in an era when social media reviews leave no place to hide. 

It’s clear that learning is the way to be relevant again. To rekindle brand love, established companies like Mothercare should be looking to the burgeoning businesses around them that are doing so well. We now know that complacency is a killer – even among those businesses that have been around for decades.

Mothercare’s struggle reflects a wider problem that exists on our high streets. Many legacy brands are in a time warp, unable to keep up with an ever-evolving, agile consumer base. Too big, too stuck in their ways, many of them have simply lost passion for their proposition – and if they don’t care, why should their customers?

Mothercare seems to be keen to get its mojo back, reclaim its position in parents’ hearts – and not follow Toys R Us, Maplin, et al, on that sombre march. 

RBTE takes place at London’s Olympia, 2-3 May 2018.

You can register to attend here