J&J's BabyCenter to Close Online Store

Plans to Focus Solely on Digital Media

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Johnson & Johnson's BabyCenter.com is closing its online store today in an effort, the company says, to concentrate solely on digital media, including by going after more retail marketers as clients.

BabyCenter sells online-display advertising on its site and does customer-relationship marketing programs for its database of registered users for both J&J and other brands.
BabyCenter sells online-display advertising on its site and does customer-relationship marketing programs for its database of registered users for both J&J and other brands.
The move gets J&J, which does the vast majority of its consumer-products business through other retailers, out of the online-retail business. But it wasn't concern over channel conflict or profitability of the store that dictated the decision, said Tina Sharkey, global chairman of BabyCenter.

"By transitioning into a fully featured media platform, we now have commerce media as one of the things we offer," Ms. Sharkey said. She declined to comment on whether the online store was profitable.

Looking for other deals
Diapers.com becomes the new official e-commerce partner for the products BabyCenter used to sell, but Ms. Sharkey said the site is also looking to land deals with other retailers in different channels. With what she termed a 78% market share among parenting sites in the U.S., she said BabyCenter should be an attractive online-media play for a variety of marketers.

BabyCenter sells online-display advertising on its site and does customer-relationship marketing programs for its database of registered users for both J&J and other brands. It includes social networking, advice columns and other original content, with more than 10,000 articles in all.

Currently, BabyCenter dwarfs Diapers.com. Traffic data from Alexa.com indicates BabyCenter got close to 1 million visitors daily over the past three months, 10.2% of them visiting the store -- more than triple the approximately 30,000 daily visitors for Diapers.com.

The e-commerce venture wasn't part of the original deal when J&J purchased BabyCenter out of bankruptcy in 2001 for $10 million, but BabyCenter later re-opened the store under J&J after it closed during bankruptcy proceedings.

Expanding concern
Ms. Sharkey said BabyCenter outside the store remains very much a going and expanding concern. She noted that key areas of focus include expanding its reach to parents of children older than 24 months and adding more social-media and digital capabilities. Globally, the site has expanded from 11 to 18 countries in the past year.

"Our audience is growing up with us," Ms. Sharkey said. "Forty percent of our audience actually has kids 3 to 8."

BabyCenter has dabbled in some more adult pursuits lately, too. One example is a "booty call," in which BabyCenter added a mobile element to its longtime ovulation calculator by sending a fertility alert to the mobile devices of women and their partners who register for the service.

Becoming relevant
That's one of many ways BabyCenter has been working hard to become relevant to a new generation of parents and would-be parents, said Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst with eMarketer. She said she believes getting out of e-commerce makes sense for a business that's primarily media focused. "My sense was that the e-commerce was always an add-on, not necessarily the primary reason people went to BabyCenter," Ms. Williamson said.

The store closing doesn't, however, appear to signal any broader repudiation of e-commerce by J&J or package-goods players in general.

J&J last year launched and continues to support SkinID.com, which sells a lineup of acne-fighting and other skin-care products as an offshoot of the Neutrogena brand and as an apparent answer to the billion-dollar-plus direct-marketing success of Proactiv.

Rival Procter & Gamble Co. somewhat renewed its on-again, off-again flirtation with e-commerce last month by taking a 1% stake in U.K. e-tailer Ocado, which an e-mail from a spokesman said includes "using their unique business model and shopper relationships as a testing ground for a broad range of communication ideas ... as we strive to better connect with consumers." That came roughly three years after P&G closed a bolder experiment in e-commerce, its customized beauty-products retailer Reflect.com.

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Contributing: Emma Hall
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