Maternity specialist Mothercare is to launch a social networking forum to more powerfully exploit its unique retail status

The retailer intends to leverage its brand strength – 80 per cent of mums-to-be visit its stores – by creating a deeper relationship with and between its customers.

Speaking at the Marketing Society’s Retail Forum this week, Mothercare chief executive Ben Gordon said the retailer was “working very hard” to develop a social networking facility.

He said: “Clearly, it’s the next thing. It’s incredibly important and it goes very well with the expertise resource of our site.” He would not reveal details of the project, such as its name or when it would launch.

Retail Knowledge Bank senior partner Robert Clark said social networking was becoming an ever more important weapon in the retail armoury, enabling stores to more strongly identify with customers and vice-versa.

He said: “It’s particularly relevant for someone like Mothercare. You can see mothers using it to hand on tips to each other.”

Community sites such as and are popular with mothers and expectant mums already, while Tesco launched a Baby and Toddler Club earlier this month.

Mothercare joins a growing list of retailers taking advantage of the social networking phenomenon pioneered by online powerhouses such as Facebook, which has 42 million members globally, and MySpace.

Waitrose has launched what it describes as a “Facebook for foodies”, while a social networking venture will form a key plank of HMV chief executive Simon Fox’s revamp strategy.

Multichannel has become an increasingly important element in Mothercare’s sales mix. The retailer adopted a bespoke online platform, built by Amazon services, last November.

In the last financial year, Mothercare’s Direct sales jumped 16 per cent to£47.8 million. At the time of the results in May, Gordon said: “We believe our Direct business has significant potential for growth in the UK and worldwide.”