Shoppers are now more sophisticated and don’t mind paying more for quality baby care products, writes Amanda Suriya Ariffin
IF a brand has been in business for close to four decades, it must have attained a certain level of credence. Anakku’s beginnings were as a family-run manufacturing outfit, now it has 126 stores in Malaysia, and it has been making parents and babies happy for a long time.
Its general manager Jasmine Chew says: “The idea of a one-stop baby centre was first mooted by Anakku.”
The idea of providing specialty counters in department stores where parents can buy baby products such as bottles as well as apparel has proved so successful that the company is now the proud proprietor of 300 such specialty counters in department stores. “All our stores sell everything,” Chew adds, “except food”.
She has been with the company for seven years, starting out as a category manager. She shares several insights that the average buyer may not notice.
“The baby business is quite stable, so far. The whole year round. It doesn’t experience surges because it falls into the category of destination shopping, where you only buy (things) when you need it. Impulse buying is there, provided you have kids,” she says.
While there are no significant peaks in baby product shopping as opposed to the traditional seasonal peaks witnessed in adult consumer goods, Chew relates that the Raya season as well as year’s end see increased shopper activity for baby goods. “It is a safe business.” She concurs with my suggestion that it seems recession-proof, astutely pointing out: “Women have babies all year round.”
A parent herself, Chew understands what parents want. What patterns has she noticed in her experience? “In my early years, when I first joined the company, many parents really stocked up when we cut the price,” she remarks. But nowadays, they don’t. “Shoppers are smarter now, more sophisticated and more demanding of the product.
“Apparently parents are now willing to pay more for international brands or for something that has extra features.” These may include products free of certain chemicals, components or are designed for particular sensitivities in babies and infants.
She attributes this greater awareness to increased access to information, such as the Internet. She adds: “We constantly do focus groups, and I always visit the stores. We also constantly have feedback from the sales team on products, on what the consumer needs.”
As the company unveils its newest 468-square metre concept store at The Curve in Mutiara Damansara, Chew keeps abreast of global trends by visiting large baby care exhibitions, from Germany to Hong Kong. Multi-angled consumer- and industry-driven influences aside, there are also the local idiosyncrasies. For example, local mothers like to boil feeding products before use, reveals Chew. Very few use tablet sterilising or even the microwave.
With the ban on polycarbonate products and the increasing use of polypropylene products, Chew cautions that traditional boiling may cause greater wear and tear on the latter, but consumer awareness is an ongoing exercise. “There are leaflets attached with each of our products,” Chew reassures, “which detail cleaning and usage instructions.”
Given that new mothers may be overwhelmed by choices as well as having to grapple with multiple lifestyle changes, such details are important. As are products that are available today that were not decades ago. Chew is quick to list the most sought-after item today for busy mums: the electrical breast pump, followed closely by the electrical milk-warmer.
“Mums are very busy nowadays,” Chew observes. But what are the most purchased items by parents? Chew says: “Apparel, napkins, feeding bottles, the playpen and bath accessories.”
And how about a parting nugget of wisdom as a mum? “Learn to be their (your kids’) friend,” she says, beaming.