Reimagining the Baby Product Market
Having a baby is like entering into a new tribe. Suddenly words like Nuk, onesie, and Diaper Genie become not only familiar terms, but essential touchstones of daily life. The transition to parenthood is one of the few times in life when we become consumers of items we couldn’t have previously imagined using. For new parents, this reality can be as overwhelming as it is exciting, as they struggle to weigh the utility of confusing new products for the most important person in their lives.
Thankfully, the tribe is there to help. For generations, parents have been providing hand-me-downs and advice to new moms and dads. Technology has sped up this process, with mom’s groups offering a sounding board on products and Craigslist offering used baby items. And yet, the baby product market today seems headed in the opposite direction—offering more and more specialized baby products for each age and stage, no matter how fleeting. Take the Magic Merlin Sleep Suit, a $40 extra-padded onesie that helps in those few weeks where baby is transitioning out of a swaddle. Or the Bumbo seat, also $40, which helps during that brief moment where baby wants to sit up but can’t unassisted.
This hyper-specialized baby product market is out of step with today’s new parents, many of whom are Millenials. They are great at building communities; used to sharing everything from cars to music; environmentally conscious about waste; and full of desire to “pay it forward.” Parents are gravitating toward sharing models—using online groups and networks to pass, sell, and trade used strollers, cribs, clothes, burp cloths, and even partial packages of diapers—like never before.
While baby product companies may see this trend as a threat, at Altitude, we see it as an opportunity for innovative companies to create product systems that reinforce this new value system and build attractive business models at the same time. By designing baby products with a modular or durable approach, such as what we did when designing the Dewalt Radio, to support use by a second or third baby, companies in this space can own the burgeoning aftermarket. At the same time they can provide an ongoing revenue stream similar to the way that razor blade companies sell the razor (durable) once, but keep them coming back for razor blades (consumable) for the life of the product; or the way Keurig profits more from selling K-cups than coffee makers.
Some baby products, such as the Playtex Drop-Ins baby bottle and the Diaper Genie, already take advantage of this model. But what if it was applied to larger and higher-priced durables in the market? At Altitude, we see three key consumable/durable models to explore for the baby aftermarket, allowing parents to pass products along to other parents, and to repurpose them for their later children or even for multiple stages in the life of one child:
For high-price items, companies can offer a kit to replace parts that get the most wear or are most critical for safety. For example, a mom who buys a high-end stroller on the aftermarket could buy a kit to replace important components, such as the wheels or the seat or straps, to ensure it performs as well as a new one. Rather than losing the sale of the stroller, the company gains a sale of the kit to a customer they wouldn’t have otherwise captured.
For products primarily made of fabric, such as Pack-n-Plays and co-sleepers, companies can create kits specially designed to clean secondhand items. Currently, mothers are going to great lengths to clean hand-me-down products—scrubbing them and letting them dry for days in the sun, or even steam-cleaning—and even then, they are concerned about cleanliness. By selling a branded cleaning product specially formulated for particular fabrics, companies could provide parents reassurance that they can clean the dirt with something safe and non-toxic for their little ones.
Today’s parents want to feel like they are celebrating the uniqueness of each child with baby products customized especially for them. They’ve been accustomed to this treatment themselves from brands large and small—going online to buy a new dress at eShakti or a speaker for their smartphone from Jambox and pick from dozens of colors and styles in order to customize it to their taste. Why shouldn’t they be able to do the same with their children?
Strollers, car seats, and high-chairs could all be made with a variety of colors and patterns to choose from online—and removable covers could allow parents to customize an item for a new child of a new gender or different personality. Decoration kits could even be swapped out by season to correspond to holidays or sports teams, creating opportunities for companies to sell consumables. This kind of versatility could also allow parents to express their own style or parenting philosophy. Today’s parents view products they buy as much of a reflection of their own values as a product to keep their babies safe, happy, and supported. By allowing them, for example, to pick out high-chair components in wood, metal, or plastic, companies can let them signal these preferences to other parents within the same product.
New products are always coming out to support baby’s age and development stage. But parents resent purchasing expensive new items they know they will only use for a short period of time. By making these innovations accessible without forcing a big investment, companies can entice moms away from the aftermarket. For example, designing durables to be modular—so the interactive portion can be separated and attached to a universal mount—could allow for the same car seat, exersaucer, or bouncer to grow along with the child’s psychical and mental development. Stokke has started employing this model with their Tripp Trapp adjustable high chair seating system that is designed to grow with kids from six months to seven years old.
Toys designed to be easily slapped or pulled could be swapped for those requiring more fine motor manipulation as kids develop their coordination. Mobiles with black-and-white shapes for infants could be updated with colors, animals, and numbers as babies grow. The consumable accessories could also be designed so that they could work for many different products—travelling from high-chair to bouncy seat to car seat—giving parents maximum use during a particular developmental stage, while also creating an emotional connection to a product, character, or brand.
The big players in the baby product marketplace have yet to respond to the mom-to-mom aftermarket. By thinking strategically about designing products for multiple uses, companies have a huge opportunity to reinvent products and capture a larger revenue stream.