legislating interoperability in casual markets
Welcome new readers (!) and hello again to others - everyone has been so patient. I had a major Q1 deliverable (*our son) and pressed ~pause~ on regs while I doused myself in the fantastic/frustrating/super fluffy fog of new parenthood.
There is a strange euphoria to letting a *very* small person control much of your “schedule,” and I am working hard to revel in that shift and not resent it (!!) as we put the fourth trimester in the rearview mirror. Later!
What I have always loved about “regs” is that it has been here for me whenever I am ready, bursting with something to say or kick at; and when I don’t have an IDEA, that’s okay, too.
A recent fascination of mine is the finite interoperability of stroller and car seat systems.
Hear me out: there are all sorts of adapters (also called “extenders”) you can purchase so that you can mix and match your [child’s] infant car seat with your stroller system. That creates a nice option where instead of removing your baby from the car seat and transferring them to a stroller (disrupting their sleep, re-buckling, etc.), you can remove the entire car seat and click it onto the stroller’s infrastructure. This is especially useful when your little one lacks the head and neck control to sit up.
But the digital analogue would (likely) lock out such interchangeability, forcing families to stay within a company’s ecosystem so that they purchase both items from the same place. Stroller companies Chicco, Cybex, Graco, and Nuna are firms that have gone this route, closing themselves to any sort of interchangeability.
Both strollers and car seats are subject to regulation in Canada (I know, right?). There are Carriage and Stroller Regulations under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, and car seat and booster seat laws vary slightly across the provinces and territories because of federalism. But as far as I can tell, the [limited] interoperability is not mandated or addressed. Instead, it seems to be voluntarily pursued by the sector, and imperfect as a result: there are cart seat and stroller matches that are manufacturer approved, and other systems are more DIY.
Thanks to all the baby gear content online (!), I found a Stroller and Car Seat Compatibility Guide. It’s organized by car seat, and tells you which strollers are adaptable to what infant car seats. There are over 600 different possible combinations in this guide.
So the marketplace is generally positive and maintains competitiveness despite sporadic interoperability.
So what’s the deal - how did this happen?
Are stroller companies being snatched up by private equity firms and essentially private labelled in order to smear on a veneer of competitiveness? It doesn’t seem like that’s the case (though, FYI, Bugaboo is owned by Bain Capital).
So not all stroller companies necessarily also manufacture car seats and vice versa; making some initial interoperability necessary. And the ones that do have a natural incentive to bundle their car seat and stroller to consumers before promoting a subset of their competitors.
My other question was: who sells the adapter - the stroller company, the car seat company, or is there a secondary adapter economy that facilitates the mixing? It seems that the companies manufacture the adapter themselves.
Finally, how hard is it to allow a different car seat to click into a stroller system? It seems like full interoperability could be mandated, and won’t naturally (or magically) occur.
I wondered if the naturally occurring (and novel!) interoperability between strollers and car seats had a cool backstory
Turns out, the interchangeability is sporadic and ad-hoc - perhaps there would be more if the market demanded it…BUT the market for car seat and stroller combinations is similarly sporadic (not as sustained) which could weaken demand for broader interop. because it is unsustained;
Manufacturers [seem to] control the market for adapters that allow for some *system* crossover to occur
Things should work together, and consumers shouldn’t be forced to purchase more items from one company unnecessarily;
Lack of interop. - abusive to consumers and competitors - hurts the market, too
There could be a role for the state to mandate technical interoperability, and for a standard to emerge so that more car seats are compatible with other stroller systems.