Natural Baby Shower's post-Covid digital blueprint

Words like ‘pivoting’ and ‘adapting’ have been bandied around with increasing regularity in recent months when it comes to discussing the response of retailers’ to the Covid-19 pandemic. But in many respects, the retailer Natural Baby Shower has been perfectly placed to respond effectively to changing consumer behaviours in the crisis, such as the shift to eCommerce, which has led to increased sales of its eco-friendly baby products over recent months. 

Natural Baby Shower is arguably the quintessential example of a modern retailer, one that began online in 2007, with this channel the primary focus, before opening a store in Surrey, complimenting its digital shop. This is in contrast to the traditional retail model, starting out with a store focus before building an online presence. Clifton Vaughan, MD and co-founder of Natural Baby Shower says: “We love the store retailing and want to grow in that area but the focus has always been online.” Natural Baby Shower is now looking to build on this omnichannel approach as it looks to meet future customer needs.

The brand has made tweaks to try and ensure it serves online customers well amid a continued surge in demand since the crisis began. “Lockdown hit in March and we changed our model online to be in stock only,” explains Vaughan. “We used to oversell our products a lot so mums could get exactly what they want even if they had to wait for a few weeks. But in lockdown we didn’t want to take people’s money if we couldn’t supply the goods.”

The main focus has therefore been on ensuring Natural Baby Shower’s warehouse is able to meet the additional demand. And Vaughan says it is looking at introducing warehouse management software to process orders more quickly, as well as potentially moving to a bigger site next year. “If you can’t get the goods out the door then your service reviews drop and your whole online business can get a bad reputation within quite a short time over the internet these days,” he notes.

New online services

As with many retailers during the pandemic, the eco-friendly baby product retailer is actively looking to adapt its in-store experience online for those still reluctant to visit public places amid the ongoing pandemic. This is especially the case in the baby product market, where the core customer base is pregnant women, who fall into vulnerable category.

Having improved on-site personalisation with a solution from Wunderkind, Vaughan expresses a particular interest in the potential of augmented reality (AR) technology to provide such experiences. AR has become increasingly prevalent in sectors like fashion over recent years; for example, in allowing customers to digitally map clothing on a body and help them understand whether a product is right for them. The same principle can be applied for certain baby products, according to Clifton. He gives the example of taking a folded pushchair and checking if it fits in the boot of the customer’s car, which is “a big issue for parents”.

He is also exploring the use of video consultations between parents at home and expert staff in store, although is highly conscious of ensuring that this can be done seamlessly first. “It’s about getting the right tech involved to make it a nice experience,” adds Vaughan.

Providing reliable information

Vaughan sees the provision of reliable information as an increasingly important area for retailers, especially those residing in specialist areas. This can help cut through the huge swathes of information that people are bombarded with on a daily basis via the internet and social media, with unreliable reviews commonplace. This is an issue that has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, where there has been a growing reliance on the internet by consumers. Being a purveyor of honest and reliable information also offers an opportunity for retailers to enhance their reputation, which is becoming an increasingly important consideration for consumers.

Vaughan comments: “Obviously getting the trust of customers is important. We’re trying to build that reputation; we don’t want to be spreading fake news... We want to give real information with parents at the front of it because they’re the ones who are using the product the most.”

As part of this approach, Natural Baby Shower provides further information about the products they sell through the eyes of their customers via buying guides. This was introduced after noticing that while its brands give plenty of insights on their products, this does not necessarily encompass the lived experiences of parents. Vaughan adds: “It’s about bringing out these customer journeys which are really important to learning about the brand and learning about what they need at the right time.”

A unique omnichannel approach

Despite the understandable focus on the online arena, Natural Baby Shower’s physical store still has a major part to play in its overall omnichannel strategy.

The main purpose of retailer’s store is to provide experiences and information for expectant parents, ahead of being a sales channel. In conjunction with partners, services include the ‘The Hub’, which offers baby and parenting classes, events and talks, 3D scanning for pregnant women, as well as general consultancy and advice on products. Vaughan comments: “We don’t mind taking someone through the door then them shopping later on in the website.”

It is not fanciful to think the approach used by Natural Baby Shower could offer an insight into retail’s future model. Vaughan outlines: “Online’s trying to replicate what’s happening in-store with touching and feeling and the in-store is trying to replicate what online’s doing with information. So I think you’ve got these two merging types of spaces even though they’re completely different, trying to form together, which is an interesting concept.”

There has been plenty discussed about the shift to eCommerce and the demise of the high street during the Covid-19 crisis. But this is an overly simplistic summary; clearly digital has a much greater role to play in retail in the post-Covid world, but if used in the right way, the physical store can still be highly relevant for many customers. In Natural Baby Shower’s approach, online is the primary focus for sales and product information, while the physical store is more about providing experiences as well as offering further more general information and advice for expectant and new parents. There is also increasing overlap between the two which work closely together rather than in silos.

The right approach will certainly vary between different types of retailers, and will require plenty of experimentation over the coming months and years, but the example of Natural Baby Shower potentially offers a blueprint for retail’s new normal.

Photo credit (iStock): SbytovaMN