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Mothercare - What went wrong?

Tuesday 5 November 2019 Retail ConsultancyShopping Behaviour

Bob Shearwood's picture
By Bob Shearwood

Recent news brought the announcement of Mothercare appointing the administrators. Having lost £36.3m last year, the retailer is unable to return to profitability and failed to find a buyer. So what went wrong? The CACI team takes a look.



Whilst not so sure I like the image of an established parent, the fact is my kids are now either side of GCSEs and starting to party later than us. But it only seems like yesterday we ventured into Mothercare, full of excitement for our imminent arrival. Mothercare was the obvious place to go back then, easy to find, easy to park and, well, it did what it said on the tin.

Today’s news that it’s gone into administration comes with a hint of sadness for me, yet another long-established name disappearing from the high street. So what happened? Even thinking back to my first steps into Mothercare I remember thinking (as you probably would in our line of work) that it’s quite a niche market; an effort to go to a specialist shop when John Lewis, or a supermarket had everything we needed.

Ultimately it’s been a case of another retailer that hasn’t engaged with their customers to make it an experience. What better captive market could you have than a couple eager to provide the best they possibly can do for their new bundle of joy, whilst on a natural high of new parenthood? And that’s not to mention the grandparents, the uncles, aunties, godparents and friends who also want to celebrate the new arrival.

It reminds me of Toys r Us in a way, both retailers could have delivered a potentially wonderful experience (think of Hamleys) but ultimately and sadly failed.  It would be easy to blame the supermarkets; but with little in the way of shoppertainment to encourage dwell time, it’s perhaps no surprise another name has disappeared from the High Street.




As far as I’m concerned Mothercare is another example of a soulless shopping experience. With a new family, I have many recent visits to Mothercare under my belt. Like many expectant and new parents, I was excited and a little nervous at what this new life will bring. But the prospect of a visit to Mothercare, let alone the reality, is enough to drain the joy right out of me.

Mothercare were sitting on a goldmine. New parents are going to go the extra mile for their new baby. EVERYTHING you need to get for a new baby is expensive. Prams are expensive (we still have 4 prams – enough for six children! And we only have two!!), car seats, cots, rockers, books, toys, learning aids, EVERYTHING costs a fortune. But you want the best, so you buy the best. Mothercare should be there to guide you through this process, in a consultative and relaxing setting.

Would my experience have been improved by a supervised creche? Or quiet areas where I can sit and talk to a ‘consultant’ over a coffee about what I need now and in the future? Or a follow up with guides and advice on what I will need for the next steps of my child’s development? For sure.

Mothercare are competing with the likes of John Lewis and the supermarkets. But the new parent market isn’t even their core offer and they do it better.




I don’t have any kids, so have absolutely no need to go to Mothercare, but it’s not too difficult to see where things went wrong.

The competition has become a significant challenge, the diversification of supermarkets (George by Asda, F&F by Tesco etc) are now offering similar goods at a discounted rate and online competitors take this even further. They offer the full range of products often at a more competitive price point – you can buy second hand nursery products on Ebay at a fraction of the price of Mothercare. And it's not just the products that customers are going online for. New parents are far more comfortable getting their advice from peers, independent online reviews (trust pilot, Which? etc) and social media, meaning they are far less willing to pay a premium for instore advice from a sales assistant.

Whilst none of the above is new to Mothercare, they have been growing E-Commerce sales which now make up about 40% of all their sales, but even this hasn't been plain sailing. Over the 2018 Xmas period, online sales dropped by 6.9% - which Mothercare blamed on technical issues. These things happen, but they really shouldn’t, particularly given Mothercare have limited opportunity to recapture lost customers (some items are one-offs – despite what Bob says about prams – what was he thinking!?)

Mothercare suffered with a bloated store footprint. They have been steadily shutting stores since 2009 reducing their overall footprint from about 370 stores to less than 100. However, 25-year leases, with upward only rental reviews, combined with living wage, and declining store footfall have will have taken their toll on the business.



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Recent news brought the announcement of Mothercare appointing the administrators. Having lost £36.3m last year, the retailer is unable to return to profitability and failed to find a buyer. So what went wrong? The CACI team takes a look.

Mothercare - What went wrong?