Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shopping, and what retailers can learn from WalMart

With Christmas approaching, and being on most-time maternity leave still (I'm working very part-time), I've spent some time in the stores lately. Time with Mia in the stores, I should say - and her Big Enormous Stroller. I've learned a few things about shopping.
The only store I have found lately that has reasonable aisle widths, no aisle clutter to speak of, and requires no elevator... is WalMart. Now, I'm not really a WalMart fan. Sure, their prices are low, their stores are clean, they have reliable family washrooms, but it seems to be at the cost of small business, employees, and results in the homogenization of the world (I was going to say North America, but I saw a WalMart in Mexico a few years back. I suspect they're stealthily taking over the world, McDonalds style). Okay, Old Navy is pretty decent as well for stroller-friendly layout.

Here's the thing: I WANT to shop elsewhere. I don't like big box stores. I have money to spend on Christmas gifts and time to spend it at the mall, or wandering down main street and popping into shops. And I'm not alone.

So, dear retailers, please take a lesson or two from WalMart - you are losing customers left, right and center, I'm sure! Just take a look at the clientele at the mall on a weekday. Do you see what I see? About 70% mums with strollers. Mums with time on their hands and a yen to shop, and a very small person in a very big stroller who seems to "need" lots of stuff. Stuff that could be purchased at your store. Here's what you need to know. It's pretty easy. 

Your store needs to be stroller accessible. I'm not talking about the first three feet of the store. The whole store.  

If I can't get in to see your stuff, I'm not buying. If I can't reach the cashier, I'm not buying.

Worst offenders? Abercrombie and Fitch decided to give their store a porch of sorts at the mall near me: three steps up to get through the door, then three steps down to get into the store. I tried, really I did. We went up the first steps with the stroller, I saw the next set of steps, peered into the gloomy darkness of the store, and said, "Forget it!". Wrangled the stroller right back down the steps and walked away. BAD MOVE, A&F. The Children's Place, Gap Kids, and Gymboree - I spend more time trying to maneuver around the racks, which are scattered in some awkward non-grid system and placed way too close together, than looking at the wares. Even Toys R Us has aisle clutter issues. These are stores for kids! People who shop there pretty much all have strollers. What are you thinking?? Stores like Bombay, Pier 1, Benix (the worst!) - I get that your stores are full of non-child-friendly stuff. But they're so darn crowded I have to walk sideways when it's just me shopping. No way am I coming in with the stroller.

And this is why the big box retailers and online shopping are winning my money over the small stores. Not because I prefer them. Not because I support their style or ethics (or lack thereof). Not because I even particularly like the stuff they have. It's because I can't come in with my daughter in her stroller.

I also have to add... If I can't even get in with a stroller, it's clear that you all really suck in terms of wheelchair accessibility too. So uncool.

Am I the only one this bugs, or are others frustrated too?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The best toys

Just a quick post today to share Geek Dad's 5 Best Toys of All Time. I like it.

Mia is napping -:yay:- so I have a minute for a hot cup of tea and to catch up on my email. Hopefully it's not like yesterday's debacle, where it took me an hour and a half to get her to sleep and then twenty minutes later, a courier rang the doorbell, and the @#$ dog set off barking which woke her! Love the dog, hate the bark...

Don't forget to enter the two amazing giveaways I've got running now for my Canadian readers. I spotted the Sozo nap saks at Winners yesterday and they are SO fuzzy and cushy. Someone will be lucky to win one of those for their little one! And the Bright Starts toy looks super fun, I can't wait for Mia to open hers at Christmas, you can win one of those too!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bright Starts Having a Ball - Review and Giveaway!

Christmas came a little early for Mia as she has been testing out the Bright Starts Having a Ball Get Rollin' Activity Table!

It comes with six coloured balls, just the right size for little hands, and textured (with animal faces) so that they are easy to grab. The center has a ramp and a hole where the balls swirl around and drop down to one of four legs with catchers at the bottom. I have found that with one ball in the catcher, if another goes down that leg it sometimes bounces out and rolls away.  Here's a ball in action - you can see how focused Mia is on it! I like that the balls are light enough and small enough for her to have no trouble picking them up. They're very rolly, though - on our wood floors I find I'm chasing them around!

You can also see here the gears for turning, and the fish, which has coloured beads in it that tumble when it's spun. Each activity triggers a different song or phrase.

The table has two modes - play and learn - which switch back and forth depending on what page of the book is open. Mia LOVES flipping the page of the book (we read together a lot and she helps turn pages). She flips it back and forth, so we hear "Let's play!", "Let's learn!" over and over! Here she is with that page... you can see the look of concentration on her face!

Here also you can see the alligator, whose mouth flips up to reveal a hiding spot (sized just right for a ball or maybe a treat!). The alligator triggers sound effects, or "open/closed", "up/down", depending on what mode the table is in.

There's also an orange spinner, which can hold three balls - a red lever spins them madly around and they fly off in all directions. I'm SO glad Mia hasn't figured this one out yet, as she's not got the focus at her age to go around picking up the balls!

There's also a cute caterpillar that is also a shape/colour learning tool and acts as a musical keyboard, and the 1-2-3 numbers pop up and make sounds or say numbers when pressed.

The last great thing about the Activity Table is that it is the perfect height for Mia to use as a walker. She's at the age where she wants to walk all the time, but is unable to balance yet - she's been using my fingers, which is hard on the lower back when it's all day long. However, she can lean on the table and push it along while walking - it's not meant to do this specifically, but on wood floors it works a treat. Here she is on the go!

You can use it without the legs for younger babies as well.

If there were anything I would change about it - the alphabet song that it sings says "zee" instead of "zed", and I wish for the Canadian market they would have changed that. I also wish that for Canada they would give a French option. **Edit: the French versions of all the Having a Ball toys should be out in the New Year!** And I wish the balls would always catch in the legs, and not occasionally roll out.

However, those are minor complaints. Mia spends more time playing with this than a lot of her other toys and I like that it has functions that entertain her now (at 9 1/2 months old), and she can grow into other elements of it. What she loves now are the book, alligator, fish, and banging it randomly to see the lights and hear the sounds. What she will grow into are the learning elements - numbers, alphabet, relating the sounds and songs to what she sees, as well as the more complex actions of the ball ramp, spinner, and gears. I think it will be fun once she realizes where the balls go once they drop through the center - and that they could fall into any of the four legs. I also like that it's not huge, it's a reasonable size.

The Bright Starts Having a Ball line has a bunch of fun toys (Santa's bringing Mia the Swirl and Roll Truck for Christmas! Shh!) and they are available in Canada (and the US) exclusively at Toys R Us. Visit Bright Starts for more information about the toys!

Bright Starts has generously sponsored a giveaway for my Canadian readers as well! They have sent me a Swirl and Roll Truck to give away!