Harper Grey: Toddler Time


The Savvy Shopper - Harper Grey

Last week, a toddler and her family were removed from a Jet Blue flight that was preparing for takeoff. The two-year-old had an ill-timed tantrum and initially refused to sit down and buckle up. Her parents finally calmed her down, but the pilot decided the presence of a tantrum-throwing toddler made the flight unsafe. Whether or not that was the right call is not my place to say. But I have to wonder what would happen to the airline industry if every screaming, unreasonable toddler was deemed a threat to security.

Anyone who has ever parented a toddler knows how hard it is. They throw fits at the most inopportune times. They’re unpredictable . . . one minute they’re sweet angelic darlings who are happy to color quietly. The next minute they want something they can’t have and they’re prone on the floor, howling and writhing around like mortally wounded wild animals.

Unfortunately, parents with toddlers still need to shop. They need groceries. They need clothing. They need housewares and towels and personal care products. And they need a few hours away from home. They can’t lock the toddler up in a closet (well, some people do, but that’s illegal. And bad parenting), so they take him with them and try to get through the shopping trip without the embarrassment of a meltdown.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2010, there were over 20 million children under the age of five living in the United States. That’s a lot of little kids. Odds are, if you have a retail business, you have customers with toddlers.

Toddlers can be a real trial for your shop. They tear things off shelves, wipe their dirty little hands or mouths on the merchandise and throw themselves on the floor in the middle of the store. This behavior chases away both customers without kids who want to avoid the noise, and parents who can’t browse and shop while their kid is being a pain. One solution is to follow the Jet Blue method and kick all parents with mis-behaving children out of your store. But that just gives you bad publicity (ask Jet Blue how much overtime their PR department put in last week). And it decreases your sales, because those parents want to buy stuff in your stores. Kicking toddlers out is not the answer.

Instead, try to think of ways that you can make your store friendlier to little ones. The first thing to do is get down on your hands and knees and move about your store to see what’s at eye level. Is there a bunch of delicate merchandise within reach of toddlers?

I was recently at a store that carried products for scrap books. The major demographic for a store like that is moms with kids, so in the middle of the day on a Tuesday the store was full of babies and toddlers shopping with their moms. The store had a huge wall with floor-length racks that held special paper, which drew those toddlers in like moths to a flame. Since the store didn’t have shopping carts, the kids weren’t restrained at all, and the moms were trying to juggle paper, stickers and other supplies and keep an eye on the kids at the same time. Needless to say, a lot of paper got pulled off those racks and crumpled into little hands. At 75 cents a piece, that was a lot of waste for the store. Moms were trying to get out of there as quickly as possible, so they weren’t really able to browse very long, which meant that they were probably spending a lot less money than they would have if their kids weren’t destroying the merchandise.

Since this store has so many customers with small children, it would be well worth the time and expense to rearrange the racks so that the delicate, expensive paper is out of the reach of little hands. The addition of small shopping carts would make it easier for moms to contain their kids and shop more freely. Moms win because their trip becomes a little less stressful. Toddlers win because they aren’t getting in trouble. And the owner wins because her expensive paper isn’t ruined and the moms are spending more money.

When my children were small, my favorite store offered a free drop-in child care area. My kids loved to go in and play with the cool toys and the staff was friendly and fun. The staff could always call me over the intercom if there was a problem, so I could shop care-free, knowing that my kids were fine. This store carried everything: groceries, clothing, sporting-goods and housewares. I could buy groceries for the week, a new outfit and a birthday present for my husband all at the same place. And I could browse to my heart’s content since my kids weren’t screaming at me the whole time. I spent a lot of money at that store.

Another store I frequent offers a different solution. The store sells lingerie, and its staff is renowned for helping women find the right bra. If you’re a guy, you don’t understand the many intricacies that go into choosing the right bra, but let’s just say that it takes a fair amount of time and effort to get it right. Shopping at this store is difficult, if not impossible with small children; it’s not realistic to expect a toddler to spend a long time inside a fitting room without freaking out. The owners of the store know that many of its customers are moms who are home all day with little kids. They also know that many of those moms have husbands who are more than happy for their wives to go shopping for new lingerie.

So, the store introduced a “women’s night out” once a month. They keep the store open two hours later than normal. During that time, they offer wine, cheese and discounts on merchandise. Children are not allowed in the store during these hours. At all. This event draws in many customers – both women without kids (who enjoy shopping in a quiet, child-free store) and women with kids who have either left the kids home with Dad or hired a sitter so they can indulge in several hours of shopping without trying to parent at the same time. Everyone wins. The women get treats and discounts and a quiet shopping experience. The store owners get more sales. The toddlers get to stay home and play with toys instead of being dragged to a boring store. And the husbands just might get to see the new lingerie.

Toddlers often make life difficult for both parents and business owners. But instead of banning them from your business, find solutions that make parents, kids and shoppers without kids happy.