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Digital embraced by Mothercare and HMV as they reinvent their stores

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Staff equipped with iPads and offering interactive customer service are among the features of a new-look Mothercare store that has been designed around customer needs. Singer Myleene Klass, who has designed her own range of children’s clothes, opened the new Edmonton store. Incoming chief executive Simon Calver says the 30,000 sq ft shop reflects the demands of its core customers – mums.

Features include a ‘buggy park’ where customers can road test buggies, as well as a ‘mumspace’ zone, a 4D ultrasound scanning studio, an in-store Costa Coffee, while staff equipped with iPads offers interactive customer service.

Meanwhile, over at HMV, it’s reported that a social media café, where customers can charge phones, surf the internet over free wi-fi and collect online orders, will form part of the retailer’s new two-storey Cambridge shop, set to open on Saturday.

For both retailers, the new-look stores come at a time of falling profits and sales. Mothercare is enacting a three-year transformation plan designed to restore its fortunes and regain what its new chief executive Simon Calver has termed “acceptable levels of profitability”. Mothercare reported group sales of £812.7m in the year to March 31, up 2.4% on the £793.6m last year, and a pre-tax loss of £102.9m, down from a profit of £8.8m at the same time last year. Before a one-off exceptional charge of £104.4m, group underlying pre-tax profits came in at a “disappointing” £1.6m, down from £28.5m last time. The transformation plan, introduced in May, is designed to make the company “one of the leading online players in the UK over the next three years”. It includes putting ecommerce at the heart of the business, and taking the Mothercare brand multichannel across its international markets.

Meanwhile, HMV’s news comes days after it last week reported a 19.7% fall in sales to £923.2m and a loss of £16.2m in the year to April 28. Last year the company reported profits of £17.6m.

Mothercare chief executive Simon Calver, who joined in late April from Lovefilm, said: “We have listened to what mums want and have started to implement changes right across the Mothercare offering improving our product range, re-establishing our value and improving the convenience of the shopping experience.

“The Edmonton store has been designed to give everything a new mum needs in one place and we look forward to rolling out further updates across the rest of the Mothercare estate.”

At HMV a spokesman is reported as saying: “As the company continues with the transformation of its retail offer in response to the changing way that people now discover and enjoy entertainment content, HMV is increasingly developing a fully-fledged multichannel offer across its combined store, online and digital estate.”

Our view: If necessity is the mother of invention then falling sales and profits at both of these multichannel retailers seem to have very effectively highlighted the need. Now comes the invention bit. And that, inevitably means listening to customers. Mothercare has had a helping hand from very vocal critics in social media forums such as Mumsnet – and the buggy park for testing how pushchairs handle in real life situations is a great invention. Likewise, the HMV’s social media café goes a way to welcoming in digital in a way that the retailer hasn’t before. As with all inventions, we’ll have to wait and see how they go down with customers. But the main thing is that the idea of inventing new formats and features, rather than relying on what used to work, is being embraced – and that in this age of the disruptive internet, is essential.

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