Rock-a-Buy Baby: Gift registries rise in popularity among new and expectant moms.

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Some people are so hard to shop for. What do you buy for someone you've never spoken to or even laid eyes on? Thanks to the growing popularity of baby-gift registries, friends and relatives in search of the perfect item for Junior are finding it easier than ever to get what he (and mommy) really need.

According to a study by American Baby Group, publishers of American Baby magazine, 42 percent of new mothers registered at a baby-gift registry in 1999, a notable increase from the 24 percent who did so in 1996.

The number of first-time moms who registered jumped to 62 percent in 1999, compared with 33 percent three years earlier. And while only 25 percent of all expectant mothers had registered at the time of the survey, 77 percent of the first-time expectant moms had or planned to do so by the time the baby arrived. Most pregnant women register in their fifth or sixth month, according to the report.

"All the trends we are seeing in new moms these days are about saving time, and baby registries play right into that," says Barbara Landon, research director for American Baby Group. "Today, moms are involved in many different circles. They don't have just one shower - they have one at work, one with friends, one with family - so it's important not to duplicate gifts. No one has time to exchange things. These registries keep things simple and manageable."

Baby-gift registration is especially strong when it allows for one-stop shopping, Landon says. While 37 percent of new and expectant moms still register at Toys "R" Us, the store's share of the market has decreased 3 percentage points since 1996. Meanwhile, 48 percent of moms in 1999 registered at baby superstores like Babies "R" Us and Burlington Baby Depot, which offer a wide assortment of the most popular registry items. In 1996, just 18 percent of expectant moms registered at such stores. Everything-under-one-roof stores such as Target have also seen enormous gains - 34 percent of moms signed up for Target's Lullaby Club in 1999, compared with just 13 percent three years ago.

Retailers such as Target and JCPenney also offer their baby registries online, as do a multitude of Internet-only sites, including, and And since 64 percent of new and expectant moms have Internet access (spending an average of 12 hours online every month), it has the potential to become a very lucrative medium for this market.

But while 26 percent of new and expectant moms did make purchases online in the past year, they were primarily buying for themselves - books, CDs, travel tickets, and computer software. When it comes to baby, 83 percent of moms still choose to register directly from a brick-and-mortar store. Perhaps more surprisingly, 73 percent of those surveyed said they didn't even know if stores posted baby registration on the Internet.

Retailers need to make their baby registry Web sites more user-friendly, says Landon. But most importantly, they need to do more offline advertising to promote their services. "From an advertising point of view, a gift giver is unidentifiable, but a mom is very easily identifiable. It behooves advertisers to tap into this target audience," Landon says. "If moms don't know about it, they can't use it." In this case, moms do know best.

For more information, call Barbara Landon, research director at American Baby Group at (212) 462-3672.

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