E-commerce targeting new parents a fertile ground for Irish companies

15 Jan 2009

Irish-based online businesses targeting new parents are plentiful on the web and many are operating in the e-commerce arena. Indications are that such operations will not suffer as much as other industries this year.

Aileen O’Toole, managing director of AMAS, a consultancy specialising in online channels, notes that demographically, parents fit into the category of people who buy most online.

“As parents are time-poor, it’s logical to assume they’re more likely than the general population to buy online. First-time parents in particular are thirsty for any kind of information, as they’re in unchartered territory.

“Traditionally, new parents bought every book they could and drew on the experience of a network of people who have been there before. A lot of that type of activity has transferred online.

“Given that e-commerce targeting this segment in the UK is a healthy sector, it’s safe to assume Ireland is following suit.”

Forums where parents share experiences and seek advice are well established here. Probably the best-known site is www.rollercoaster.ie and new sites have emerged recently, some of which were set up on a community basis, such as Mumstown.ie in Drogheda.

From a commercial point of view, there is a proliferation of sites selling everything from maternity wear to nursery gear to baby gifts. But how well are they actually doing?

“From what we can see a lot of these projects are ‘mom-and-pop’ operations, not big commercial entities. A lot rely on affiliate revenues and are like kitchen-table businesses. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means they’re not big earners and tend to act as a supplement to another income,” says O’Toole.

Having said this, some parent-focused, web-based businesses are standing out from the crowd and moving from the kitchen table to the export market.

Take Handy Baby Products, for example, which joined Enterprise Ireland’s High-Potential Start-Up Unit last April.

Like so many parenting sites, Handy Baby Products was born in 2003 because its founders were parents themselves, hungry for information and products for their own babies.

Dublin-born sisters Suzanne Browne and Martina Delaney had both worked as executives in the financial services industry in Jersey before returning to Ireland in 2001 and starting families.

The original idea was to set up a small online baby website that would allow them to work from home, but within a year the website had grown from a one-product offering to selling over 100 products, and in January 2005 the duo moved to commercial premises.

They were importing and distributing a number of ranges into major nursery stores, including Smyths Toys and Mothercare, and had secured a regular slot on TV3’s Ireland AM.

Delaney says one of the keys to Handy Baby Products’ success is the fact they test the products themselves and make sure they offer a real benefit to parents.

The foray into exporting came in 2006 with the introduction of Handy Baby Products’ own brand of patented baby products – Clevamama.

Export turnover increased over 30pc between 2007 and 2008 and the Clevamama range is currently being sold into the UK, Germany, Spain, Hong Kong, Russia, Slovenia, Norway and Australia.

Delaney says so far the recession hasn’t impacted on the business very much, and she’s reasonably optimistic about market potential this year. “In a recession, people will shop around for value for money and that’s easier to do online. On top of this, a baby boom is predicted because people are staying at home more.”

Suzanne Browne and Martina Delaney, co-founders of Handy Baby Products, one of the numerous online businesses that have cropped up in Ireland to target parents