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Baby Retail: Kohl’s Betting Big on Babies

Elizabeth Lafontaine
May 10, 2024
Baby Retail: Kohl’s Betting Big on Babies

Of all the specialty retail sectors, baby has been one of the most interesting to watch over the past few years for a few reasons. The industry is closely tied to a specific consumer life stage, and the CDC recently reported that the birth rate in the United States declined 2% in 2023, reaching the lowest rate recorded. If fewer consumers enter the family formation life stage, or have fewer children, the pool of potential visitors for retailers to draw from slowly dries up. The industry also faced massive disruption over the past year with the bankruptcy of Bed Bath & Beyond and the shuttering of its buybuy Baby chain last summer. The buybuy Baby closure marked the end of the large specialty baby chain sector in the retail industry, with the category facing the bifurcation of sales and traffic between big box retailers + Amazon and small independent specialty retailers.

Still, there have been some signs of life for baby-based retail despite the headwinds. Babylist, a popular online registry tool, launched its first brick-and-mortar outpost in Los Angeles last year. Buybuy Baby’s new owners reopened 11 locations in late 2023, concentrated in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Then, in March, Kohl’s announced its partnership with WHP Global to bring Babies“R”Us to its stores. The Babies“R”Us shop-in-shop format receives a lot of positive momentum from both the Sephora at Kohl's partnership as well as the Toys“R”Us & Macy’s partnership; both predecessor collaborations have been rolled out to a majority, if not all, doors.

This week, we learned of the 200 initial locations receiving the Babies“R”Us (BRU) concept this summer, which will receive a wide assortment of hardgoods and softgoods, and be positioned next to the children’s apparel department. This new partnership is no doubt a continuation of Kohl’s strategy to attract and retain younger visitors, and the Babies“R”Us model can hopefully help the retailer hold onto Sephora shoppers as they enter the family formation period. Another likely goal is to steal some market share away from the mass merchants dominating in baby and lure some former buybuy Baby shoppers.

According to Placer.ai data, The Babies“R”Us + Kohl’s locations performed similarly to the total Kohl’s chain in 2024, with both chains showing visits down 23% year-over-year. The Babies“R”Us + Kohl’s locations do have a slightly higher visitor median household income of $84k compared to the total chain at $81K, which supports the notion that the Sephora & Babies“R”Us partnerships are meant to bring premium offerings to the typical store.

The partnership launch, as mentioned above, is a clear offensive move to capture some of the former buybuy Baby business in the areas where the locations did not reopen. Using Placer’s location analytics, we compared a national subset of 16 former buybuy Baby locations to the newly announced Babies”R”Us + Kohl’s locations. Looking at the visit demographics between the Kohl’s locations in the first four months of 2024 and the former buybuy Baby locations in 2023, it’s clear that Kohl’s attracts a suburban family and more mature consumer base, as where buybuy Baby locations were a stronghold with young urban singles and young professionals. Kohl’s may have an opportunity to attract new or existing grandparents to the partner stores, but will need to use the Sephora angle to attract younger consumers who may also be looking to start a family in the next few years.

Kohl’s is also betting big on the East Coast, with a number of partnership stores located in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. A few of these locations are in direct competition with the newly reopened buybuy Baby locations and will create some fascinating local competition. In the Boston metro area, there are both a Kohl’s and buybuy Baby location within 9 miles of each other but have local differences that may benefit Kohl’s entry into the market. Kohl’s has a median household income of about $30k more than visits to buybuy Baby and also captures more loyalty, with more loyal visits than buybuy Baby throughout the first four months of 2024.

This particular Kohl’s location has a smaller disparity to buybuy Baby in attracting young professionals, but it also attracts wealthier and more mature visitors that once again may translate into attracting parents and grandparents. 22% of buybuy Baby’s trade area overlaps with Kohl’s and the two share 11 square miles of overlapping trade area, so it will be interesting to see how Kohl’s can pull visits away from the competition.

As 2024 progresses, Kohl’s opens its partnership locations, baby retail will hopefully find its footing and provide retail solutions for potential and new parents. E-commerce has filled the void for baby registry services, but brick-and-mortar retail still holds a lot of importance for parents.  Baby specialty retail is essential to the success of baby products and brands, and there is a lot of white space opportunity in the category for retailers to emerge to take share. Consumers, even if there are fewer of them, need experiences and solutions provided by retailers, and baby retail is a cautionary, but optimistic tale for other specialty sectors for the remainder of the year.

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Elizabeth Lafontaine

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