Americans Might Be Broke, but They’re Still Dropping Serious Cash on Mom Today

Covid-19 appears to have made us appreciate our mothers all the more

young woman covering her mother's eyes and giving her a present
Americans are actually planning to spend more on Mother’s Day presents than they did last year. Getty Images

Key insights:

According to ecommerce performance analytics firm Profitero, for the past seven weeks straight, the top three search terms on Amazon have been toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitizer. Given the travails of life during Covid-19, that’s not especially surprising. But then suddenly, as of May 2, toilet paper was toppled by a new and critical issue.

Your mother.

That’s right, Sunday is Mother’s Day (you haven’t forgotten again, have you?), and the Amazon search for “Mother’s Day Gifts” has held fast to the No. 2 slot (just behind face masks) for several days now. And though this storied American holiday rarely yields much in the way of hot trends—candy, greeting cards and flowers are perennial sellers—this year has served up a notable surprise.

Despite the fact that the country is in the worst recession since the 1930s, Americans not only plan healthy spending on Mother’s Day presents, they actually plan to spend more than they did last year. According to data from the National Retail Federation, the $24.6 billion we collectively spent on mom last year is up to $26.7 billion for 2020, a spike of 8.5%.

More of us will be celebrating mom, too. Last year, 84% of the population purchased a Mother’s Day gift of some sort; now it’s 86%.

“Consumers seem to be embracing the holiday as much, if not more than, they have in the past,” said the NRF’s senior director of industry and consumer insights Katherine Cullen (who notes that she was as surprised as anyone to see the expected spending increase). “It’s almost as if the extreme circumstances we’re dealing with make the holiday more meaningful and more important.”

This year, the data indicates that consumers will spend an average of $205 on a per capita basis, an increase of $8 over 2019. Such figures would not be surprising during boom times, but for the week ending May 2 alone, the Department of Labor recorded another 3.2 million jobless claims, bringing the seven-week tally to 33.5 million unemployed. Historically, discretionary spending on items like gifts takes a hit when household budgets constrict, but not this year.

In sum, the coming of the coronavirus—and the forced isolation mandated in its wake—appears to have prompted us to miss mom more, since many of us cannot visit her or take her out. It follows that the pandemic has also changed what kinds of Mother’s Day gifts Americans are purchasing.

Profitero recently ranked the most highly clicked products for Mother’s Day-related searches on Amazon. In the top five were the “A Prayer for My Mom” wall hanging, birthstone necklaces and the “What I Love About Mom” fill-in-the-blank gift journal.

It’s probably no accident that these items are especially sentimental and personalized. NRF found much the same trend in its own survey. For example, while the old standbys still held their ground—73% of men said they were buying flowers, for example, and 76% were sending greeting cards—the foundation also saw an uptick in electronics, including virtual assistants, smart displays and other devices that help people connect—virtually, of course.

And what about the increasingly popular realm of experiential gifts—the baking classes, special dinners and skydiving lessons millennials made popular? NRF’s data found that gifts involving social outings were down by 9% (and it’s likely more than that, since the federation administered its survey in early April, before the full extent of the Covid-19 crisis was apparent).

Profitero’s president, Sarah Hofstetter, said that according to her firm’s findings, “there are signs of replacement behavior. So instead of going to the spa, there’s an uptick in search and sales for items like spa masks and pedicure sets.”

Notably, however, customers haven’t given up on the idea of going out to celebrate. A little over half of male respondents (54%) said they’re planning a “special outing” for mom, though it’s anyone’s guess when they’ll make good on it.

“There’s a little bit of hopefulness going on,” Cullen said. “People want things to go back to normal.”

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.