What lies behind Mothercare’s woes?

Canterbury's Mothercare store is on the Wincheap Retail Park

That Mothercare is considering shutting 50 of its stores is a sign of the increasing instability and uncertainty of the retail sector.

It has already closed stores in Ashford and in Sittingbourne last year, leaving just three in Kent: Maidstone, Canterbury and Bluewater.

The firm is now 57 years old and has seemed an immovable fixture of the retail landscape.

But it’s worth remembering that other big chains have either departed the city or departed altogether like the Woolworths store, which used to sit where the Poundland now does in St George’s Street.

Currently, Mothercare has 137 outlets across the UK, employing 3,000 staff.

The old Woolworths store in St George’s Street

So what’s changed for it? Like many firms, it is facing stiff competition from retailers offering goods for lower prices.

Amazon and Argos challenge it in the toy department while Primark, H&M, Asda and Tesco battle it on the children’s clothing front.

It also became too big too quickly during a period of good trading, which left it with under-performing stores when sales dropped.

The last four years has seen Mothercare reduce from 200 stores to 137.

And since 2012 it has seen year on year drops in sales. Retail consultant Kate Hardcastle argues that cost-cutting is responsible.

She said: “New parents want advice and support – whether they are buying a baby-grow for the first time or a bottle – and their sales assistants just weren’t trained.

“I also had a wider buggy for two children and I couldn’t get it around the stores. I was really disappointed and I’ve talked to hundreds of other mothers who feel the same.”

Mothercare has not yet announced which of its stores it intends to close. But if it chooses to dispense with one in Kent, it almost certainly won’t be the one at Bluewater – leaving either its Maidstone town centre outlet or the one on the Wincheap Retail Park facing closure.


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