After more than a year of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are beginning to sense a return to normal as vaccines are rolled out and many cities and states lift restrictions across the country. A combination of pent up demand and record levels of savings have certainly put consumers in the mood to spend. As was the case with Easter and Mother’s Day, consumers are poised to spend a record amount on Father’s Day as well.
According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insight & Analytics, consumers plan to spend $20.1 billion on gifts, activities and celebrations this year – nearly $3 billion more than last year! The average spend of $174 per person is also a new high, with the 35 to 44-year-old-cohort spending the most, averaging $259 per person.
While it may seem that a day to recognize fathers and their contributions to the lives of their children would be obvious, the holiday is relatively new and was not without controversy as many lobbied for its creation. Father’s Day became a national holiday less than 50 years ago when, in 1972, the Nixon administration established the third Sunday in June as the official annual date – nearly 60 years after the creation of Mother’s Day.
The holiday was originally conceived by Sonora Smart Dodd, the daughter of Civil War veteran, William Jackson Smart, himself a twice-widowed, single parent, in 1909. Although the day was commemorated in a few places and there was support from President Woodrow Wilson who celebrated the day in 1916, the holiday did not immediately catch on. Many men drew parallels with Mother’s Day and objected to the effeminate nature of a holiday associated with flowers and gift-giving. Additionally, one historian writes, “they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products—often paid for by the father himself”.
And some, even today, feel that the holiday is unnecessary, my wife included, because after Mother’s Day, the other 364 days during the year are already Father’s Day. J I digress, so back to the 2021 data.
High on consumers’ list are special outings to celebrate the day with Dad with 46% of the survey’s respondents stating an outing was in their plans. This number is nearly in line with pre-pandemic totals. It is interesting to note, however, that last year the percentage in this category only fell to 41%. The timing of Father’s Day coincided with the cautious re-opening protocols many states implemented last June, along with a proliferation of outdoor dining options. A month earlier, people planning special outings for Mother’s Day had fallen by 10 percentage points while pandemic-related shutdowns were still in effect.
There also appears to be increased interest in returning to physical stores. Last year the percentage of people planning to shop online surged to 44% due to necessity. This year, the share of those planning to shop online has fallen to 40%, but as evidence that habits established during the pandemic are here to stay, compare that total to 2019’s online shopping share of just 34%.
The top three gift categories include the traditional greeting card (59%), clothing (49%) and aforementioned special outing (46%). The last category falls into the realm of experiential retail, of which much has been written about the generational gap with younger shoppers spending on experiences, while older consumers prefer to buy things. The survey data supports this observation noting that the Millennial and Gen-Z cohorts are twice as likely to gift an experience than Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers.
There may remain a little prejudice against the Father’s Day holiday when compared to Mother’s Day. 75% of the survey’s respondents report that they plan to celebrate Father’s Day in contrast to 83% for Mother’s Day. Also, consumers spent $7 billion more on gifts for Mom than they intend to spend on Dad. Even so, the effort by Ms. Smart-Dodd to set aside a day of recognition for fathers was successful and in her 90th year, she witnessed the official establishment of the Father’s Day holiday, which has grown in popularity and become another major contributor to overall U.S. overall retail sales activity.