Mothercare and Mamas & Papas became the latest high street casualties this month, both going into administration within days of each other, and severely limiting the options of parents who want help fitting a child car seat.
For more than 50 years, Mothercare offered products for expectant mothers and general merchandise for children up to the age of eight years old.
Similarly, Mamas & Papas has existed for more than three decades, and is a popular option for parents buying pushchairs, car seats and more.
Here, we look at what the closure of so many baby shops means for families, and explain where parents can actually try a pushchair before they buy, or have a car seat professionally fitted.
Mothercare and Mamas & Papas fall into administration
Mothercare has struggled recently and, last summer, the retailer went through a rescue deal known as a company voluntary arrangement (CVA).
Under the CVA, Mothercare was able to shut loss-making shops and reduce rents, which resulted in 55 stores being closed.
This didn’t fix the problem, though: Mothercare lost £72.8m in its most recent financial year, as it had to cover the cost of closing stores and reorganising the business.
On 4 November 2019, Mothercare announced that it was going into administration and would be closing its 79 remaining UK stores.
Only a few days later, Mamas & Papas collapsed and went into ‘pre-packed administration’.
This process allows companies to use some of their assets to reduce their debt before the administrators come in to complete the sale.
Mamas & Papas closed six stores in Aberdeen, Preston, Milton Keynes, Lincoln, Leamington and Fareham with immediate effect. The retailer will continue to trade from its 26 remaining shops and website for the time being.
- Find out more: which car seat do you need?
What happens if you have a Mothercare gift card?
Mothercare stopped accepting gift cards at midnight on 13 November 2019. If you still have a gift card for Mothercare, it is now unusable.
It may be possible to claim the value of your gift card or voucher back from Mothercare’s administrators.
Or, if your vouchers or gift cards were bought using a credit card and the value of the single purchase was more than £100, you may be able to make a section 75 claim under the Consumer Credit Act.
If you bought a gift card or vouchers for less than £100, or bought them using a debit card, you may be able to claim using a process called chargeback.
- Find out more: what are my rights with gift vouchers and cards?
Online shopping threatens the high street
The closure of Mothercare and Mamas & Papas stores has been linked to an increase in the number of people choosing to shop online.
Clive Whiley, chair of Mothercare, said: ‘It is with deep regret and sadness that we have been unable to avoid the administration of Mothercare UK and Mothercare Business Services, and we fully understand the significant impact on those UK colleagues and business partners who are affected.
‘The UK high street is facing a near existential problem with intensifying and compounding pressures across numerous fronts, most notably the high levels of rent and rates and the continuing shifts in consumer behaviour from high street to online.’
Riccardo Cincotta, executive chairman of Mamas & Papas, said: ‘These actions are always difficult but they are also necessary in a challenging market to ensure Mamas & Papas achieves its considerable future potential.
‘We remain fully focused on maintaining our position as the UK’s most popular nursery brand.
‘We will continue to review our store portfolio in the light of customers’ changing behaviour and we remain fully committed to an omni-channel offering that reflects their evolving needs.’
- Find out more: choosing a buggy or stroller
Parents must be able to try before they buy
Despite online shopping becoming more popular, it’s essential for parents to be able to try out pushchairs and car seats before buying.
The disappearance of Mothercare stores and the reduction in Mamas & Papas outlets has greatly reduced the options for parents who want to visit a store in person.
Even if you buy the safest possible child car seat for your little one, if it’s not fitted correctly, it won’t offer the best protection in the event of an accident. That’s why we’d always recommend buying from a retailer that offers a fitting service.
Although the number of stores has fallen, there are still major retailers offering this service, including:
- John Lewis
- Mamas & Papas
- Smyths Toys
Some independent retailers also offer a child car seat fitting service. Before you head into a store, download our free car seat shopping checklist so you can ask the right questions to help you make a safe purchase for your child.
- Find out more: how can I find a child car seat that fits?
Which? mystery shops child car seat retailers
Last summer Which? conducted an investigation into the best retailer for buying and fitting child car seats. Our mystery shoppers travelled around England, Wales and Scotland, visiting 213 branches across six retailers.
The salesperson at each retailer was marked according to how many of the questions they asked from our car seat checklist.
Our mystery shoppers were posing as customers wanting to upgrade their nine-month-old baby’s car seat to the next stage. No information was offered up freely by the mystery shoppers, so the store staff should have asked all the right questions to enable them to give the best advice for our scenario.
Stores were judged against a success rate of 100% for asking all the right questions – but, shockingly, there was an 89% failure rate.
This means that in every nine out of 10 visits, the store staff failed to ask all our key safety questions.
Best and worst retailers for car seat fitting
Out of the six retailers investigated, Halfords was the best store for fittings, with a failure rate of 83%.
This is far from an impressive score, and 18 of Halford’s branches could have easily swapped the overall fails for passes had they remembered to ask a few more questions on things such as underfloor storage in cars and the child’s height, and explained the importance of the child being rear-facing for as long as possible.
Both Mamas & Papas and John Lewis came bottom of the list, with a failure rate of 100%, because the retail staff did not ask all the required questions, or didn’t explain (or demonstrate knowledge) as to why they missed a question out.
- Find out more: 10 essential car seat fitting checks
How will the remaining retailers cope?
Now that there are far fewer options for parents who want to try out pushchairs and car seats, we asked the retailers that do still offer this service what steps they’ll be taking to serve the extra demand they’re likely to face.
Halfords has more than 460 stores across the UK and Republic of Ireland selling pushchairs and car seats, and offering car seat fitting to customers.
In light of the recent closures, Halfords has pledged to honour warranties for all branded car seats bought at Mothercare.
Emily Moulder, car seat expert at Halfords, told Which?: ‘We have 2,800 trained colleagues who can offer free car seat demonstrations to customers [and show them] how the seat works, what the features are and whether it fits their car.
‘We also have a wide range of seats and buying guides on our website.’
John Lewis & Partners is a popular choice for parents hoping to buy items such as pushchairs and car seats.
The department store offers free two-hour consultations, which can be booked in-store, where experts can talk about anything from car seats and pushchairs to feeding equipment.
A spokesperson for John Lewis & Partners told us: ‘We understand that purchasing larger nursery items such as a pram or a car seat is a big decision and can feel overwhelming, particularly for new parents.
‘Our partners are highly trained and able to offer impartial and expert advice across our full range of brands.
‘Many of our shops can offer car seat demonstrations in customers’ own vehicles, so that we can check the product is compatible with their car and that they are confident about fitting the seat and using the seatbelt or Isofix correctly.
‘Customers are invited to stay and play with the equipment – push a pram around the department, try their children in a car seat and practise putting on a sling.’
- Find out more: car seats jargon explained
Finding the right child car seat
Finding the right child car seat can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a new parent.
Before buying, it’s important to do your research and find out what type of car seat you need.
In September this year, Mamas & Papas was fined £20,0000 for selling 150,000 unsafe car seats. The store’s Mercury-branded child car seats were ruled unsafe following a three-year investigation by Milton Keynes Council’s Trading Standards department.
At Which? we crash test each car seat multiple times, combining this with expert ease of use and comfort assessments, so you can choose the best car seat for protection and a comfortable ride.
What to do if there aren’t any stores near you selling or fitting car seats
We’d always recommend trying a car seat in-store before buying, and getting it professionally fitted once you’ve chosen one.
However, if you don’t have any baby retailers near you and are unable to travel to one, make sure you check our reviews to find a safe option, and then watch manufacturer videos (usually available on Youtube) so you can see how to fit the seat yourself.
For more advice and tips on how to buy the right child car seat, watch our short video below.
Finding the right pushchair
Finding the perfect pushchair, travel system or stroller for your little one can be difficult, as there are so many options available.
We’ve put more than 300 pushchairs through our rigorous lab tests in the past five years, to help you find the best travel system for your family.
Which? members can read our extensive pushchair reviews, based on a combination of hours of lab testing and parents’ opinions.
Watch our short video below for tips on what to look out for and the pitfalls to avoid, whether you’re buying a new pram or a toddler pushchair.