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IMRG Online Retailer Interview: Mamas & Papas

A Q&A with Chris Greenwood, CIO, Mamas & Papas

We spoke to Chris about showrooms, one-hour click and collect, and pre-emptive purchasing

Tell us about Mamas & Papas

Mamas & Papas, if you didn’t already know, is a nursery wholesaler, retailer, and designer of products. We’re in the mid-to-high-end range of that product sector. Our key competitors are companies like Mothercare, who operate in the middle end of the market (who we also partner with) but we also compete and partner with product brands as well: people like Bugaboo, etc.

We’re an all-encompassing brand. We’re not just retail, we’re not just wholesale, we’re product as well. We’re probably one of the first ports of call that customers come to when they find out they’re pregnant, and they want to find out a bit about what products they’re likely to need. They come to us not only to buy products, but for information as well.

Is that why your website is split between ‘shop’ and ‘discover’?

That’s right. So, the ‘discover’ section is to try to match products to individual people. That’s probably always going to be an element we constantly refine.

One of the key ways we find out about our customers is inviting them to a personal shop, where there’s no obligation to purchase, it’s completely free of charge, and they can be presented with the entire product range. That’s an element which we’re developing more than anything.

Particularly at that stage of your life, you want it to feel personal. You don’t want to feel like you’ve just turned up at some faceless corporate brand who are just trying to push their product. So, we really understand what the customer wants. The feedback we get from our customers is that they absolutely love that service and we’re looking to roll it out more.

Currently it’s not available online but we are exploring the possibility of how you would replicate that. At the moment we’re focussing on getting the store concept absolutely nailed on, and then recreating that in a wider form for those people who can’t easily get to us.

Shop interior

So, you’re concentrating on the high street rather than online at the moment?

Yes. We’ve found that in terms of the high street, people sometimes use us as a showroom, as well as somewhere to just go in to pick up bits and pieces. The nursery industry is unusual in retail, in that quite a lot of the products you’re placing orders for, you don’t need for a few months. But you’re trying to get together that wish-list of things you want when the baby comes, and so quite often people might be ordering anything up to six months in advance.

12 weeks pregnant to 17 weeks pregnant is when people are most in that consideration phase, and generally they’ve made a complete decision by week 20 of their pregnancy. So, we need to speak to people before that touchpoint. After that point, they’ve probably made up their minds and got a really good idea.

It doesn’t necessarily apply to everybody, but we’ve found that most customers are following that sort of timeline. It’s definitely a unique industry. For most retailers, they get an order, ship an order, and they’re done. For us, those orders can evolve over time.

And it’s worth mentioning who we sell to: It’s obviously UK-based consumers for retail in the main, although we do some sales in Europe and the US. But we also have a wholesale business which is as big as the retail business, where we’ll supply retailers such as the big national accounts, for example Very.co.uk, Mothercare, independents, and big international business as well, particularly in the Middle East.

Pregnancy

What are your biggest challenges for 2018?

What we’ve found this year is that one of the biggest challenges is what’s been happening on the high street generally. We can’t pretend that we’re immune from that. We have to make sure that we have a differentiated proposition, not only online, but offline as well.

And that’s why we’ve been optimising the personal shopping experience. We need to always excel at service, rather than just selling the products, so people feel that they can come to us and trust us. We welcome showrooming, because it is also important to get footfall up in our stores as well as online.

We’ve been doing omnichannel for a number of years now and we feel we’ve very good at that. It’s about acquiring new customers and getting them to engage with the brand as early as possible, which is probably similar to most other companies out there, but we feel that we’ve got a bit of an advantage in that we’re very customer-centric and omnichannel, probably better than anyone else.

Do you see a healthy balance of customers both in the high street and online?

We get people that shop across both. There are ‘gifters’ who will go online and in store and they’ll just buy the smaller items – photo frames, money boxes, clothing, that kind of thing.

Then we have a number of customers who are making a really big considered purchase like furniture. Quality furniture sets and high-end pushchairs are a very considered purchase – they can be around £1,000 for those types of products. People aren’t just going to turn up and spend that amount of money without good information.

What we’ve found is there’s a lot of research that goes into buying our products more than any other item, because you want to make sure that the baby is safe, you want to make sure you get the right product, you want the longevity, you want to make sure that the product is quality.

We’ve found that the challenge with customers is making sure we get those messages across to them, so that it isn’t just a case of showing them a product, but also helping them understand it. Our products without the right advice could appear quite complex if you are a new parent, and trying to get those messages across in as few words as possible I think is key.

Our largest store is our ecommerce site, which is about 25%-30% of our turnover (depending on the time of year), but the stores are equally important. Much of our furniture gets sold online, but only after they’ve been in store and touched and felt the product to make sure it’s right for them.

We’re encouraging the customers tell us who they are at every stage of the journey, because what we don’t want is customers engaging online and then disappearing into a black hole, reappearing somewhere else. It’s trying to make sure that we understand their entire journey, and that we’re giving the customer the best support we can every step of the way.

Woman pushing pram

How much interest do you see in your next-day delivery offering?

Quite a bit of interest. What we’ve found is that we need to make sure that we offer every conceivable service for customers. We’re not doing much same-day apart from click and collect (we do one-hour click and collect), but we’ve found that it’s certain times of year when this option is most popular.

As we get towards the Black Friday area, and there’s a little bit more gifting in that for Christmas, the next-day seems to be a thing that tends to increase at those times; they tend to increase at the times where it’s most difficult to achieve, as is always the case. But it’s a hugely important part of what we do.

Just to be able to offer that breadth of service to customers is important. Whether customers are willing to pay for next-day delivery is another question. Some customers will not want to pay for delivery, whatever it is. We have a large amount of customers who will always go for the standard, but the next-day is used quite a lot. We see it from the way our stores are structured: people visit our stores and then either have a product delivered to the store the next day or their home the next day from the store.

We see retailers putting themselves under a lot of pressure to offer that ‘next day’ or ‘same day’ Amazon prime experience which comes from industry pressure more so than consumer pressures. The key to getting delivery right is to strike the right balance between what makes commercial sense for a business and offering sufficient breadth of delivery choice to their customers, so that they can choose the most convenient delivery option.

“The trick for retailers is to make sure you have the flexibility and agility to make changes to those delivery options on the fly, to keep pace with customer preferences. Also, from an operational perspective in case you need to switch between carriers because of capacity or general performance issues.

Comment from Dan Ennor, Commercial Director at Global Freight Solutions

Package with love heart

Tell me about your one-hour click and collect policy

Our technology is completely integrated: the warehousing, the stock in the store, etc., we’re able to let customers know where the product is in stock, anywhere.

If you wanted to go online and buy from our White City store, we’d know if it was in stock there or not, so you would place the order and then the store would be asked to pick it. It flags up on the tills as soon as you place the order. If the stock is not available in store, then we can get it to the store by the next day.

We use analytical tools to ensure that that all stores have stock of the key takeaway lines. The larger items generally aren’t in store – our smaller mall stores generally aren’t the best places to present a wardrobe or every available pushchair colour, for instance. But certainly, on the smaller items and clothing – all the things you might want immediately we can get there straight away, otherwise we can definitely get it to your home next-day.

Do you encourage/monitor reviews on your website?

Yes, most of the reviews are to do with service and product. We actually launched a campaign recently where we invited a lot of brand advocates to be part of the journey, and so we asked them what they think. These are about a dozen expectant or new parents. They comment on the product, they comment on the service, and they’re very honest with us. And I think that’s the best way to be.

We always reach out to focus groups and these brand advocates to see: what is it we’re not doing? What is it we could do better? If we’re not customer-centric, then people will just wander off to a competitor. We give people that reassurance that they can trust us. It’s probably the most wonderful and stressful time of a parent’s life, and we are always mindful of that.

Businessman on laptop

How did you prepare for Black Friday this year?

I’m not going to be complacent and say it always goes smoothly, but we’re very careful with what we promise around that time of year. We pre-worked out what all our offers were going to be, and we tried to spread that out.

Rather than just having sales on the one day, I think like many retailers now, Black Friday day has turned into anything from a few days to a couple of weeks. What we try to do is share those offers, because otherwise it can be very daunting for people with so many things going on, so we tend to have a different spotlight every few days. We find that’s very helpful: one spotlight might be on rocking horses, another on pushchairs, etc.

In terms of delivery, we set people’s expectations. We tend to not offer out one hour click and collect on Black Friday week – it wouldn’t be sensible to try and do that as we get so busy. We tend to come back on the next-day service. We want to make sure that whatever we promise, we achieve. In terms of how the website holds up, we’ve become old-hands at this now. We over-cater phenomenally for that event.

Peak shopping periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday depend as much on being able to offer customers appropriate delivery options at checkout and keeping that promise as much as the deals and offers that attract them in the first place. In our experience, the ones that get it right are those that put equal measure behind capacity forecasting and contingency planning so that they can secure the extra carriage they’ll need over peak as well as be able to recover quickly if something inevitably goes wrong (i.e. bad weather or services get pulled by carriers).

“This requires a lot of effort and delivery expertise which is where retailers are likely to get caught out if these resources aren't available to them internally or via external delivery partners.

Comment from Dan Ennor, Commercial Director at Global Freight Solutions

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