The secrets in the gift ideas box

When Mother’s Day falls so soon after Valentine’s Day, gift buying slows down and retailers need to drive value with alternative thinking.


Mothering Sunday is just days away but it is likely that most people still need to buy their mum a gift. And since the market is worth more than £400m, brands would do well to tap into it.

In addition to the fact that 70 per cent of consumers wait until the week of the event before buying a present (next week), performance is expected to be particularly slow this year as the day falls so soon after Valentine’s Day, according to research by Kantar Worldpanel seen exclusively by Marketing Week.

Kantar consumer research analyst Trevor Mears describes the reason for this as “gifting fatigue”. He says: “People haven’t got enough time to change their mindset from romance to mothers, so we expect to see a drop in the number of Mother’s Day gifts being bought this year.”

Mother’s Day falls on Sunday 10 March this year, a week earlier than 2012. Over the past 10 years, the two worst-performing Mother’s Days were in 2005 and 2008, when it fell on 6 March and 2 March respectively, while two of the best years in terms of gifting were 2006 and 2007 when it occurred on 26 and 18 March. “The longer the gap between the two, the better the performance,” says Mears.

sonic editions
Sonic Editions helps its buyers with gift galleries

To make the most of each gifting event, Marks & Spencer head of brand and marketing Nathan Ansell says the retailer has to think strategically about the range it offers, how to promote it in-store and the marketing support required (see the frontline below).

One reason people leave gift-buying so late for Mother’s Day is because of the type of present being purchased, namely flowers and plants, where freshness is key.

A third (32 per cent) of all Mother’s Day gifts bought in 2012 fell into this category, while confectionery accounted for 11 per cent and toiletries and cosmetics 8 per cent. Clothing and household gifts are beginning to gain popularity at 9 and 6 per cent.

As the share of non-traditional categories expands, so too does the amount spent on gifts, rising from around £12 in 2001 to almost £20 in 2012, and it looks set to increase further this year.

Mears says: “Flowers have always been the dominant force, and still are today, but when you look at the share flowers account for, the category is becoming less important. We’ve now got things like women’s clothing, toiletries and household items really coming through.”

Total spend for Mother’s Day gifts in the UK was £409m in 2012, with 21 million gift purchases, accounting for 2 per cent of the overall gift-buying market.

To put it into context, the total value of the gifting market is £40bn. Valentine’s Day gifts contribute 1 per cent of that sum with £308m spent on 11 million gifts.

Christmas is the largest of the gift-buying events, representing 36 per cent of all gifts bought in the UK, while Easter accounts for 3 per cent.

Mears says: “Two per cent of all gifts bought is quite a big proportion. It’s bigger than Valentine’s Day, but that links into the fact that more people have got a mother than have a lover.”

Although fewer gifts are bought when Mother’s Day falls near to Valentine’s Day, there is nothing to suggest this has a knock-on effect for Easter, says Mears, even though it also lands a week earlier this year on 31 March.

Other factors can affect Easter, however, most recently the Royal Wedding in 2011, which stole consumer attention, while a bout of hot weather melted people’s appetite for chocolate.

Flowers are not big sellers online despite same- and next-day delivery

With nothing to distract consumers last year, “we saw Easter bounce back to normal levels in terms of performance,” adds Mears.

For both Easter and Mother’s Day, grocers are a popular choice for gift-buying, which is again down to the type of items being purchased. On average, 31 per cent of Mother’s Day gifts are bought at a grocery store, which compares with 17 per cent for gift purchases in total.

Although 37 per cent of gifts were purchased in supermarkets in 2012, growth has stagnated, so Mears advises grocers to focus on expanding non-traditional categories.

“If grocers look to move into broader categories and bring in some higher-end gift items, it will help to drive a higher value. Grocers will always be at the value end of the market to a certain degree because of the way they operate in terms of other categories.”

Non-grocery stores accounted for half of all gift purchases in 2012, and although online is growing – with 11 per cent of gifts bought online in 2012, up from 8 per cent the previous year – it is not as important for Mother’s Day as it is for other events, again because of the categories that lead.

Mears says: “People want to be able to see and smell flowers before buying them and want to know they will last. There’s been a lot of work done by retailers on same-day and next-day delivery, but the experience of buying fresh flowers is not yet there on the internet [10 per cent of flowers were bought online last year].”

Because it is lower value, confectionery performs poorly online too. Those looking to increase their online presence need to encourage forward planning to allow enough time for delivery, as well as expanding their repertoire online by selling across more than one category.

“Amazon became number one in terms of volume and value this Christmas as a result of broadening its gifting categories,” says Mears. “And although entertainment and tech are still its mainstay, it has broadened out into clothing and household goods and I can see that happening across the board for other events.”

For gifting as a whole, the importance of the internet is continuing to rise with the emergence of dedicated gifting websites such as Notonthehighstreet and Buyagift playing an increasingly relevant role.

Similarly, the introduction of click and collect services has helped to break down some of the barriers to purchase.

Whatever the buying method, retailers need to be quick off the mark to promote events such as Mother’s Day and capitalise on consumers’ willingness to spend more if the options are available.

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The frontline

We ask marketers whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground


Nathan Ansell
Head of brand and marketing
M&S Food

Since Easter is early this year and Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day are close together, we have had to be clear strategically about our range, the display in-store and marketing support, in order to gain maximum impact in a much shorter period.

For all our seasonal gifting events, we clearly define who we are targeting – who the purchaser is and who they are buying for. While customers are seeking something ‘special’, products with too many overt ‘mum’ cues can be off-putting. Our confectionery gifts do not have a specific Mother’s Day design, instead they sit as part of a spring gifting range with a packaging design that is sophisticated, feminine and gift-worthy beyond Mother’s Day.

It is also worth noting that the customer for Mother’s Day is mostly female and younger than the M&S average. She also may be buying for both her own mother and her mother-in-law.

Although not as last-minute as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day sales are highest in the week leading up to the event. For women, gifts are a considered purchase, but they are often bought just before the event, driven by the freshness of flowers. Male customers buying either for their own mums or gifts from kids are typically last-minute purchasers.

Mother’s Day is the peak in the year for flowers online and in-store. Our consolidated Mother’s Day gift shop online brings together gift ideas from across the business. The aim is to position M&S as the destination for Mother’s Day, providing a one-stop shop for the occasion.


Kate Knight
Senior brand manager, year-round gifting

The main thing that drives sales around Mother’s Day are features in-store. It is important to remind people that it is coming because we have just had Christmas, then Valentine’s Day and now we are going straight into Mother’s Day. It is also more difficult because the date changes each year, unlike Christmas and Valentine’s Day, which remain the same. The sales period for both Valentine’s and Mother’s Day is only two weeks maximum.

In order to promote our range, we usually do some PR around the occasion and often have posters outside the front of stores.

It is then about making sure we have got good value-for-money offers so we are featured in key locations in-store. It is about having the right product, in the right place, at the right price.

This year we have launched a new range of flower-shaped boxes with the message ‘thank you’ as that is the main sentiment people want to share with their mothers. We have a large box and a small version to suit different budgets. The large box can be given as a main gift, while the smaller box might be a top-up gift.

Online, also plays a role and we try to make sure we are visible on retailers’ digital sites too. This year people can personalise a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar with a message for their mum, or add a personalised message to a box of Milk Tray. Personalisation can only be done online, which has helped to drive sales. It is early days but it has been a success so far.


Russell Blackmore
Sonic Editions (limited edition music photography)

We do not see much impact when Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day fall close together as we feel there is enough time between the two events, and it is a significantly different offering for us for the two of them.

The key for us for Mother’s Day, and for all gifting events, including Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Father’s Day, is to put together a ‘perfect gifts’ gallery to help guide customers on what to buy. So for Mother’s Day it is all about a gallery of Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Take That – we are not going to be shifting a lot of Black Sabbath.

Luckily, we are seeing a really big shift in purchasing patterns as people get used to shopping online and shopping earlier before events. Last Christmas really demonstrated this, with our big sales spike coming in the first week of December so items were delivered in plenty of time, unlike previous years when people were leaving it to the week before.

With the high street offering less choice than we can in this area and some retailers going to the wall, online offers the best choice for finding something interesting and different and we’re hopefully well-placed to capitalise on that.

Some consumers like to avoid anything too obvious, so making them aware of our Mother’s Day gift ideas via PR is our main strategy. Even people who do order flowers and chocolates are increasingly looking to small independent online chocolate suppliers and florists rather than the high street offerings, so it is about getting their attention.



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