Mothercare Is A Warning To Retailers That Fail To Act On Data

Another huge retailer has gone into liquidation, adding to the names of companies the public is surprised to hear have failed because they seemed too big and too well-known.

But that is exactly what has happened to Mothercare as it goes into administration looking for a buyer of its 79 stores, which employ more than 2,000 staff. That number of stores is down from the 134 it used to run before shutting down multiple outlets last year and selling its Early Learning Centre to try to make ends meet.

The obvious questions is what went wrong. Considering this was probably the slowest car crash in retail history, the answer has to be -- plenty.

I was always struck by Mothercare putting forward marketing and data specialists to talk at conferences about how they had suddenly realised they had a lot of useful information about their customers.

There are few brands that we will share our details, our partner's details as well as our children's, even before they're born. This, Mothercare pointed out repeatedly, meant it knew what path people were on and when they would need another product. 

A pregnant mother looking for a pram would soon likely be looking to move on from a baby car seat to one that suits a toddler, and so on. What they claimed to have was data gold. What they did with it was another thing.

I can only speak from my own experience, but we were regular customers for our first child and to put that in context, she has just booked her driving test. What I found was that Mothercare didn't really put in any effort to use the data they had on our eldest to try and sell us stuff for our youngest, who has only just started secondary school.

If there was a plan to use all the data they had on us, I never saw any evidence of it. I'm pretty sure we signed up to the loyalty scheme too.

The other part that has been touched on in the press is that it wasn't always the best experience. There's nothing wrong with out-of-town retail parks, where you might typically find one of their stores, but the outlets were pretty uninviting whenever I popped in to get a new car seat or buy new shoes or clothes for our kids, as well as friends and relatives' kids. Not because of clever data, I have to point out, but more the fact that I knew the name and could park outside. 

The stores looked tired and there was little stock available, meaning that they simply couldn't compete with a John Lewis that could have a boxed item brought up to you in five minutes or at worst, delivered next day free of charge. The price points always seemed uncompetitive to me too. Staff were never particularly helpful. The whole experience was very utilitarian -- it wasn't the place I'd have gone to for advice or a good level of service.

So yes -- we can blame business rates being harsh on physical retailers giving online companies an advantage, but from what I could see, Mothercare did little to future protect itself. 

Sky News talked to mums who summed up the big issues. Uncompetitive pricing and poor availability from a store competing with other huge names on the high street that had better price points and stock options.

To be fair, the BBC has more upbeat stories from parents who are sad to see a stalwart of the high street, and retail park, going into administration.

However, The Telegraph finishes off its coverage of what went wrong by pointing out that two in three reviews for the company's stores were negative and, apart from all the aforementioned points, the board has five times as many women as men. This is odd for a store whose customers are overwhelmingly female, as are its shop staff.

So what have we learned? Essentially, stores that don't move with the times to compete with existing rivals, as well as those only found online, will not survive. Neither will those who talk up their data capabilities but do little with them.

Service and availability is crucial -- and so too is having a board that reflects the customer. 

1 comment about "Mothercare Is A Warning To Retailers That Fail To Act On Data".
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  1. Gary Carp from Pepperebbe Ltd, November 6, 2019 at 3:29 p.m.

    What went wrong?
    Simply put - Mothercare simply didn't have a compelling or competitive proposition. They were a category killer before Superstores and the internet. But convenience got reframed and somewhere between Tesco and Amazon Mothercare found that mother and, for that matter, father didn't care so much after all. Certainly not about them.

    Mothercare could have managed their data better. But in the truth that's just a symptom of a much deeper malaise in the UK business that was in a death spiral for years. 

    To survive, and win Mothercare would have had to close its stores and go online entirely, but then there's Amazon, so who needs them?

    The message really is nothing lasts forever. Not Mothercare and not your mother. And of the two, only the latter is worth caring about.

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