Even the Kardashian Kids Can't Help
We're in the middle of a Kardashian baby boom. Don't say you hadn't noticed.
The reality TV stars influence the things we buy, and how we look. So with Kim Kardashian and half-sister Kylie Jenner recently welcoming new arrivals, and Khloe Kardashian due soon, retailers specializing in products for mothers, babies and children should get a lift.
They certainly need one. Spending on kids should be one of the most resilient sectors of the retail industry -- yet, for all its supposedly defensive qualities, many chains are struggling.
Toys "R" Us Inc.'s U.K. arm collapsed last week, months after its U.S. parent filed for bankruptcy. Although best known for its line-up of action figures, dolls and other play-things, the company's baby business was its biggest revenue generator at home.
Destination Maternity Corp. has been hit by declining mall traffic, new entrants such as Asos Plc and looser fashions, which enable women to accommodate their baby bumps without buying special clothing.
Mothercare Plc, a fixture of the British high street, is in talks with lenders after warning for the second time in two months that profit will be less than anticipated. In France, Orchestra-Premaman SA swung into a loss for 2017 and called off a merger with Destination Maternity.
What's causing all this pain? Birth rates are falling or flat-lining across the world -- but that's not the whole story.
Sellers of mother, baby and children's goods often operate in the crowded middle market, where price is key. That has put them on collision course with Amazon.com Inc., whose subscription services -- which allow goods such as diapers to be shipped on a regular basis -- are especially appealing to busy parents.
But there have been some winners among the bricks-and-mortar retailers, and they offer a lesson to the rest of the industry: give parents a reason to visit. That means a compelling selection of products, inspiring stores, and excellent online service or employees with in-depth knowledge.
In the U.K., closely held Smyths Toys has jazzed up its stores, while John Lewis Partnership has focused on customer service. At the other end of the spectrum, large outlets operated by Associated British Foods Plc's Primark and B&M European Value Retail SA are turning themselves into discount department stores, with products for all the family. In the U.S., Carter's Inc. is holding its own, in large part thanks to its investment in e-commerce. Smartly, the company has teamed up with Amazon instead fighting it. Last year, it rolled out a line called Simple Joys that is sold exclusively to Prime members.
Mothercare is attempting its own turnaround. It's closing smaller domestic stores, and revamping larger ones, with classes for expectant parents, ultrasound baby-scanning services, children's play areas and coffee shops. Destination Maternity, which is still hunting for a new CEO, could still reinvent itself. But if these specialists don't see progress soon, not even a Kardashian baby boom will be enough to revive their fortunes.
--Gadfly's Elaine He contributed charts.
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