Mother's Day commercialization by the numbers

Flowers, cards — and complaints that it's too commercial — have been part of Mother's Day since its early years.

American consumers are expected to spend $21.4 billion US for Mother's Day this year (May 8), according to the National Retail Federation, ranking it No. 2 after Christmas and well ahead of Father's Day on the list of highest-spending holidays. That's up from $13.4 billion in 2009.

So with Mother's Day a hugely important day for retailers and restaurants, a bunch of surveys and reports have been published that together provide a picture of the commercial side of the celebration.

In an IPG Mediabrands survey conducted last year, 45 per cent of Canadians said Mother's Day is too commercial, echoing the views of its founder.

Too commercial a century ago

anna-jarvis-220

Anna Jarvis, who founded Mothers' Day in 1908, was also an outspoken critic of the day's commercialization. (Associated Press)

Anna Jarvis got Mothers' Day started in 1908. By 1914, her campaign to make it an official holiday in the U.S. had succeeded, but the apostrophe moved back one letter.

A few years later, Jarvis's campaign against the commercialization of Mother's Day was in full swing. In 1922, she supported a boycott of florists, whom she accused of raising carnation prices in early May. The carnation was her mother's favourite flower and Jarvis had made it a symbol of Mother's Day.

In later years, her campaign against the "racketeers" of her dear Mother's Day would get her arrested for disorderly conduct when she disrupted the American War Mothers convention because the group used Mother's Day for fundraising, and sold carnations.

But the commercialization and the complaints continued. CBC Archives has video of a debate from 1963 about "all this commercialized business we have now about Mother's Day," as one guest put it.

Against Mother's Day in 19635:54

Spending time with family: Mom's No. 1 wish

Today, that's not what mothers want, based on the Mediabrands survey. Six in ten moms said what they want most on their day is to spend time with their immediate family (47 per cent) or extended family (12 per cent). Only four per cent said getting gifts and treats is what they look forward to most.

Based on the survey, Mediabrands estimated Canadians would spend $492 million on gifts. With about 10 million mothers in Canada, that means about $50 in gifts for each mother.

Comparing survey results may be problematic, but that National Retail Federation (NRF) survey of Americans suggests the average mother in the U.S. should expect a Mother's Day haul that's worth five times more. (Neither average number includes spending on restaurants and takeout, which in the U.S. will total $4.1 billion, according to the NRF.)

Mothers Day Flowers

The National Retail Federation says Americans will spend $2.4 billion on flowers this year, with carnations, as always, a popular choice. (Seth Perlman/Associated Press)

NRF says Americans will spend $4.2 billion on jewelry, $2.4 billion on flowers and $2.2 billion on gift cards. Americans will also spend $800 million on Mother's Day cards, something 78 per cent will buy.

Two-thirds of Americans surveyed say they will buy flowers and one-third say they will buy jewelry. About 43 per cent will buy gift cards, leaving the shopping to mom.

By the way, 16 per cent of the respondents said they won't be celebrating Mother's Day.

In Canada, a survey conducted by Leger for OpenTable, the online reservations company, found 20 per cent of respondents won't celebrate Mother's Day. 

Big day for restaurants, too

Among those who will, half plan to celebrate at a restaurant. OpenTable's own data shows Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for brunch reservations and the second busiest dining-out day of the year in Canada. OpenTable says it's also "the largest group dining day of the year, with an average reservation size of four guests."

Minimum Wage

Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for brunch reservations and the second busiest dining-out day of the year in Canada, OpenTable says. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

The survey also asked about stress around Mother's Day, finding that six in ten Canadians who celebrate the holiday find some aspect of it stressful. Top of the list is "finding the perfect gift for mom." Stress levels seem to be highest in Ontario and lowest in Alberta.

Last year, 19 per cent of respondents in the Mediabrands survey said they would take mom to a restaurant for Mother's Day, but 30 per cent of moms told the surveyors that's what they wanted. 

A quarter of the Canadians surveyed said they planned to cook or bake for mom.

What moms don't want 

Another survey, conducted for the cash-back shopping website Ebates.com, found that 63 per cent of American mothers put quality time with their family at the top of their wish list for Mother's Day. Ranking next were flowers (33 per cent), chocolate (28 per cent), and a spa day, also at 28 per cent.

On the other hand, Ebates says, "the #1 gift American moms do not want to receive is a gym membership (94 per cent)."

SmallBiz Tiny Gyms

If you guessed that your mom wants a gym membership for Mother's Day, the odds are very much against you. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

Not that many gifts are going to be a surprise. Eight per cent of moms said they always pick out their own Mother's Day gifts, while 42 per cent said they do so some of the time.

Remember all those gift cards mothers get on their day? Rakuten Marketing (Ebates' owner) reports that two weeks after Mother's Day 2015, there was a surge in orders for apparel and accessories, as well as beauty and personal care products.

While lots of children will visit or call their mom on Sunday, many will give their mom a shout-out or tribute on their social networks. The 2015 Mediabrands survey — they did not conduct a survey this year — found one quarter of Canadians 16 years and older plan to do so.

According to that survey, 27 per cent of Canadians were friends with their mom on Facebook. The number with pending Facebook friend requests from their moms was not provided.


  • The National Retail Federation survey of 7,000 consumers was conducted April 5-13 by Prosper Insights and has a margin of error of +/-1.2 per cent. 
  • IPG Mediabrands conducted their survey online with over 1,000 "nationally representative Canadians," April 24-27, 2015.
  • OpenTable's survey of 1,568 Canadians was conducted online by Leger April 18-21, 2016, using Leger's online panel, LegerWeb. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/-2.5 per cent.
  • The Ebates.com survey was conducted online within the U.S. by SSI April 7-8, 2016 among 1,003 adults ages 18 and older. "It is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated."
     

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