Trend spotting at the baby superstore

Consumer Reports News: June 08, 2009 03:53 PM

Several key trends are influencing the kinds of baby products you'll see in stores, in catalogs, and on the Web right now. What product features do you really need? What trends should you let pass you by? The new 10th edition of Consumer Reports Best Baby Products—available in our bookstore and at bookstores nationwide—can help you decide.

Here's an overview of what's "hot" out there right now that may sway your buying decisions.

More functional designs. Manufacturers, after studying the preferences of parents, have decided that functionality is essential to sales success, and they're right. The best products are not only safe, they're durable, user-friendly, and tailored to your busy lifestyle. You'll find ergonomic strollers with comfort features such as cup holders and compartments for your keys and cell phone. Some products today are developed with several uses in mind: high chairs that become toddler chairs and play yards that function as portable bassinets and changing tables.

Bottom line: Products that do double or triple duty have a longer useful life so consider those whenever you have that option.

More stylish choices. Manufacturers have upped the style ante. You'll find products from cutesy to sophisticated, items inspired by popular children's characters and television programs, and chic lines that fit your sense of style. You'll find all-terrain strollers, for example, with chrome or aluminum accents in today's hottest colors—chartreuse, periwinkle, orange, "cognac," and black. You'll also find baby products sold in collections: car seats, strollers, play yards, and high chairs all in the same fabric theme, designed to blend in with your home décor or just coordinate with each other. On the flip side, you'll also find lots of baby products in traditional pink for girls and blue for boys.

Bottom line: Aesthetics are important to consider before and during your shopping trips. Although you may be tempted to buy the most stylish products on the market, remember that they will likely be more expensive, and that the most important factors to consider should be the products' utility and safety.

Eco-friendly. You'll find an array of "natural" and organic products for babies that are produced from organic or sustainable materials like hemp and bamboo, or are free of conventional chemicals typically used during manufacturing, such as dyes.

Bottom line: If you're considering eco-friendly products, ask yourself: Are these products really better for my baby and the environment, and worth any extra cost? (See organic and natural toys.) Most "green" crib mattresses, for example, have some conventional (synthetic) components because not all mattress materials can be satisfactorily produced organically or come from nature. Plus, there are no organic standards for the mattress industry so it can be tough to know exactly what you're buying. With eco-friendly products, as with most baby products, shop with a skeptical eye.

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