Retailers hear cha-ching on Mother’s Day

mothers day

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via Bill Moak: Retailers hear cha-ching on Mother’s Day, clarionledger.com

I remember giving my mom a lot of Mother’s Day gifts through the years, from the old standby plaster handprints to ceramic bunnies, to flowers and candy — even an ashtray (!)  with my kindergarten picture in it (she’s not a smoker, and I still have no idea what was going on in my teacher’s mind). My mom accepted each gift with class, despite how silly or clumsily made. She fawned over every gift from my little hands as if it were manna from heaven. She still does, even though I can now do a lot better than plaster handprints.

It takes a special person to be a great mom, and I have been blessed with one. Many of you can say the same.

Mother’s Day, it turns out, has an interesting history. Far from its reputation as a holiday created by greeting card companies, National Geographic’s Brian Handwerk has found that it started as a way to memorialize war dead. Handwerk dug into the history of the holiday and found that Anna Jarvis, who is widely credited with creating Mother’s Day, wanted to create a national holiday to commemorate the crucial role our mothers play in our lives.

After her own mother (who had organized mothers’ groups to help restore peace after the Civil War) died in 1905, Anna promised she would honor her mother’s wishes for a national day devoted to celebrating motherhood. Promoted relentlessly, it began to grow and spread across the country, eventually resulting in President Woodrow Wilson establishing the first national Mother’s Day in 1914. But companies quickly saw dollar signs, and soon the holiday was commercialized beyond recognition as card companies, flower vendors and candy makers cashed in.

Anna, notes Handwerk, was horrified by the crass display of commercialism and spent her fortune and the rest of her life trying to restore it to its roots. “She organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits and even attacked first lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities,” Handwerk reports. Many sources report she filed lawsuits against businesses and charities that she accused of taking advantage of the holiday.

But the years of fighting took a physical and financial toll on Anna, and in 1948, she died, broke and sick, in a Pennsylvania sanitarium, never having experienced motherhood for herself.

Nearly seven decades later, Anna’s vision remains elusive. As Mother’s Day approaches, retailers are counting on us to spend. And spend we will, in a big way.

The Mother’s Day of today is one of the biggest events on the calendar of many industries. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $21.4 billion on our moms this year, spending an average of $172.22.

“It’s clear that Americans want to honor their mothers this Mother’s Day,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said this week in releasing the results of its annual survey on the topic. “Whether it’s a special meal at her favorite restaurant, jewelry or a new smartphone, families are planning to indulge mom again this year.”

Here’s the breakdown of just what we plan to buy:

  • $4.2 billion on jewelry (given by 35.3 percent of shoppers)
  • $4.1 billion on special outings such as dinner or brunch (given by 55.2 percent)
  • $2.4 billion on flowers (66.5 percent)
  • $2.2 billion on gift cards (43.2 percent)
  • $1.9 billion respectively on clothing (35.4 percent) and consumer electronics (13.8 percent)
  • $1.6 billion on personal services, like a day at the spa (22.5 percent)

Of course, greeting cards are the most commonly purchased gifts but only accounted for $792 million of that projected spending. Becoming more popular: gifts of “experience,” such as tickets to an event or concert.

The survey also found about a third of consumers will buy their gifts at department stores, about a quarter at specialty stores and about 23 percent at a local small business. Online shopping has skyrocketed in popularity this year, with 27 percent saying they’ll shop online. Mother’s Day has been a national observance for 102 years, and though its traditions are now intertwined with the very things Anna disdained so much, generations have taken the time to stop and honor the woman who has given them so much.

So, this Mother’s Day, perhaps it’s fitting that we tip our cap to Anna Jarvis, who dedicated her life to honor her own mom. And even though buying gifts for our mothers is an established tradition, we can still take the time to let Mom know how important she really is. That’s what Anna was fighting for all along.

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