Underestimate mums at your peril

Alex Fennemore, senior planner, Haygarth, reveals the findings of several “mums” focus groups around shopping habits

Remember when you were a teenager and your mum always seemed to know everything, despite all your best efforts to hide the evidence? Our research suggests that mums don’t just reserve this talent for their kids but also for brands, retailers and promotions.

Our research findings reveal that, even with the blurring of traditional gender roles in society, the majority of mums are still the primary shopper in the household. It is something they are doing regularly and efficiently regardless of whether they are a working mum or not.

They are in supermarkets at least once a week, usually accompanied by a top-up shop one to three times a week. They are shopping on the high street most weekends too.

They see themselves as responsible for family staples such as food and clothing. Toys and treats are often bought by wider family for special occasions, but mum is ready to assume that role too.

Mums see themselves as the best, most efficient shoppers in the family – the one who can get the most for their money. One mum of a seven and a four year old commented on her partner’s shopping: “He’ll come back with one bag whereas I’d come back with four for the same money.”

Mums did admit that they can find household shopping monotonous – something done on auto-pilot. They told us they are open to retailers/brands making the shopping trip more interesting, thereby being open to disruption. However, they told us this must be salient and relevant and not inconvenience them at all.

A mum’s purchase decisions are influenced by all sorts of information and demands from everywhere. This is all held in a huge database in her head that is cross referenced for all purchases. It comes from kids’ pestering, tips swapped at school gates, online peer reviews, press articles and even the occasional deal noticed in a friend’s Facebook status update. Despite this, Mum is still the final arbiter of choice. She aggregates, assimilates and makes the final decision.

Mums are also exceptionally savvy when it comes to the concept of value. In this time of cutbacks no-one knows better how to pick up a bargain than Mum. But she isn’t just shopping on price; she’s operating on a much higher plane than that.

Mums will solve complex equations in their head, at fixture, when calculating if something is worth spending their hard earned cash on.

This higher thinking is applied when it comes to promotions. They will think through the consequences of all offers – always looking at the small print. They will calculate and balance the value of the gift or prize versus the cost of entry (i.e, stamp/text message/time spent). All this is done in an instant, so brands must get their messaging right.

But there is a certain amount of cynicism when it comes to offers in store. They tend to think the offers are more to the benefit of the brand than to them, but they’re ok with this as long as they do well out of it too.

Amongst the other information in her head, Mum also knows the prices of products she regularly buys. Some told us of incidents where they’ve noticed the price of regularly bought products go up just to be subsequently discounted. Whether this is the case or not is irrelevant, as thinking it is enough. Therefore it is important for brands to keep being open and honest in order to keep mums on side.

Although cynical about offers and promotions, it doesn’t mean that they are not going to take part.
Therefore presenting offers simply and openly will make it easier for mums to see the benefits as it will involve less mental gymnastics at fixture.

Our key finding, then, is that you underestimate Mum at your peril. She is a smart, savvy operator. The complex equations and assimilation of information that Mum brings to bear in her efforts to feed and clothe the family would make any chess grandmaster proud.

Our top tip for retailers and brands is that they need to be aware of the level of decision making involved in the weekly shop and act accordingly, with smart clear offers and communication. Otherwise mums will see right through and not be impressed – and probably tell everyone else that too.

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