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Commerce blog | Retail

Three Cheers for Family-Friendly Shops

Happy kids equal happy parents... which equal happy customers

A trip to the shops is a time-honored way to keep the kids entertained for a few hours. But actually shopping with the little ones in tow can be anywhere from challenging to impossible—unless the store in question has made itself family-friendly.


I'm not talking about removing breakables from the reach of toddlers. This is more about making it easy for parents to do what you want them to do—purchase your wares—by keeping their sprogs from running through your aisles and wheedling, "Can we leave now? What about NOW?" every few minutes.


A recent post on Jezebel about actress Jessica Biel's new West Hollywood restaurant called out the eatery's greatest point of differentiation: For an additional $15 an hour—about the cost of a babysitter in Los Angeles, apparently—you could have your child play in the restaurant's "creative space," on the premises and under adult supervision, while you enjoy an adults-only meal.


Biel wasn't the first to realise the value of keeping the kids content so that Mum and Dad can be free to spend their hard-earned money. Many, if not most, Ikea locations offer a free supervised play area so that parents don't have to rush through the store—and the longer people can spend in the store, the more they're apt to buy.


You don't need the deep pockets of Ikea (or Jessica Biel and her hubby, Justin Timberlake) to make your own shop family-friendly. I've written before about regional chain Bob's Discount Furniture and its "complimentary cafe" smack dab in the middle of its stores, where kids—and their parents too—can help themselves to ice cream, sweets, cookies, and beverages. My daughter was 10 years old the first time we shopped at Bob's, and the sweets bar definitely kept her occupied (and sweet) while my husband and I sat on chair after chair. We've since made multiple purchases from the store and its website; had we not been able to explore its offering at leisure, we might not have made that initial purchase, which satisfied us enough that we became that Holy Grail of retailers, repeat customers.


Bookstores sometimes offer weekly story-time sessions for kids, giving the parents a half-hour or an hour to browse the shelves for their own reading material. I wonder if a similar concept would work for other stores whose target audience consists largely of parents: Could a fashion retailer host a monthly event in which a staffer reads to or otherwise entertains little ones so that parents can shop (and maybe enjoy a complimentary glass of vino) free of diversions? Or a gifts store, especially during the run-up to Christmas?


Too much effort and planning for you? At the very least, you could keep colouring pages and crayons on hand to give to children entering the store with grownups and set aside a tot-size table and chairs in the back of the shop or in the changing area. Add a few toys and even a small TV with VCR, and little ones are almost certain to give their parents enough time to complete a purchase. (Remember, you don't want shoppers to have just enough time to browse your products but not enough to actually buy them; if that's the case they may well complete the purchase online at home—after comparing prices and finding a cheaper alternative.) Two children's apparel stores I used to frequent, Hanna Andersson and Gymboree, had these little activity areas, and I'm sure I wasn't the only parent who ended up browsing and buying more than I'd anticipated to take advantage of my child's quiet absorption in the puzzle and video available.


Making it easy for parents to complete their purchases isn't the only benefit of making your shop family-friendly. Doing so will also keep the little ones nicely behaved—a store with little ones running around wreaking havoc is a store I will avoid at all costs. And if the kids have fun at your shop, they'll encourage their parents to return—and because we parents are happy when our kids are happy, return they will.


author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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