In Depth

Dad-Economics: How Dads Shop

The Internet has spoken and apparently consumers have two options for getting their fathers a gift for Father’s Day.  

An Apple Watch.

Or nothing at all.   

We are not kidding. A quick search of the Google for the phrase “Father’s Day gifts” done at the time this article was written pulled up exactly two kinds of articles. The first were lists of Father’s Day gifts, and while recommendations ranged all over the place — bacon scented candles and monogrammed grilling gear were among our favorites — the Apple Watch (and other, cheaper wearables for consumers on a budget) showed up 90 percent of the time.  

The second were articles bemoaning the state of Father’s Day gift buying and the plight of Dads everywhere who keep telling their wives and children they want nothing for Father’s Day – an overt attempt at not being deluged with unwanted and possibly insulting presents.  

“Doesn’t Dad know that his stubborn contentedness with what he has is getting in the way of your desire to spend an afternoon at Nordstrom and buy him something?” beleaguered Dad Brad Tuttle wrote for Time this week. “Father’s Day gift guides are overloaded with cutting-edge gadgets, grooming products, luxury watches, stylish clothing, artisanal bourbon marshmallows, and what have you. These items are not necessarily about what Dads want, but about what the givers want the Dads in their lives to be like. They want dads to be hipper, smell and look better, and generally be trendier and less clueless.”

Tuttle writes this after noting that the subtle message of these gifts is essentially “Dad I love you, but seriously man, get with it.”

And while we at PYMNTS are nothing but sympathetic to Dads everywhere, who find themselves trying to make sense of the bourbon infused marshmallows they’ll be presented with at some point, we can’t help but notice the push of coverage when it comes to the Dad economy and its relationship to a rather strange assumption about fathers everywhere.  

In short, if the coverage is to be believed, when men become fathers, they also ascend to a state of pure desirelessness, lose all interest in commerce and outsource all their shopping needs to their wives. Since gift giving is premised on the concept of getting someone something they won’t buy for themselves and dads apparently don’t buy anything for themselves, a giftgiving holiday centered on fatherhood is tricky.

Which for some reason boils down to buying them an Apple Watch. We admit that the connection there is admittedly a little foggy.  

But that foggy connection is less important than the bigger question: is that snapshot of the Dad economy realistic? It fits nicely with that oftquoted statistic about women controlling 80 percent of the retail spend in the United States since, for that statistic to be true, one would have to believe that a large block of men have, therefore, opted out of retail entirely.

But that statistic is not true – as PYMNTS demonstrated in our Mother’s Day story on Mommerce.

And although Dads do shop less than their maternal instinct wielding counterparts in parenting, they do still shop – but rather differently.  

Dads: They Do Not Always Shop – But When They Shop, They Pay Full Price

Though most people remember their Fathers as the person who assiduously watched the household thermostat and cheerfully reminded them about the merits of wearing a sweater as opposed to turning the heat up 5 degrees to save a few bucks each month on utility bills when it comes time to making a purchase in front of people, Dad does not want to appear to be pinching pennies.

While 52 percent of Moms look for sales when they shop, only one-third of fathers do. Fathers also aren’t much for  coupons – as two-thirds feel they make them look cheap – according to recent research. Single men, interestingly, are less concerned about looking cheap – 49 percent of them use coupons as opposed to only 32 percent of fathers.

What Dads do like, overwhelmingly, is speed and convenience. A strong majority, 61 percent, say they will knowingly shop a more expensive retailer if doing so will shorten the overall duration of the shopping experience. Surprisingly, however, this does not translate into an overwhelming preference for eCommerce among Dads – even though it does theoretically shorten the duration of the shopping trip to zero. That seems to be balanced out by Dads’ overwhelming preferences to see and physically handle goods on purchases over $100. Moms are 2-3 times more likely to make large purchases online, whereas Dads strongly prefer to make their big buys in-store.

Remember When Your Dad Told You Loyalty Is Important? He Really, Really Meant It.   

If you are hoping to turn Dad onto something new this Father’s Day, you should probably know that Dad is really brand loyal. Statistically speaking, he is twice as likely as your Mom to purchase because of the brand instead of because of the price or general utility.

“Dads are actually more brand loyal than moms,” the study’s author Kasi Bruno noted, “so the brands that act first to meet the needs of dads will be rewarded with their continued purchases for years to come.”

Dads statistically favor brands they think are “best” and seem to connect that notion of “best” with a considerable price tag. Apple, Under Armour, Nike, BMW, Lexus and Harley-Davidson are all included in the favored brands list. Which is not to say that there is no good news for those buying on a budget as Dads also really seem to like LEGOs and Netflix.

Men also seem to take an active interest in buying their own grooming products – particularly when it comes to what they use to shave.    

Millennial Dads Lean-In – If It Involves Shopping

While Dads are often lumped together as a single group, the generation gap makes a big difference when one is talking about the shopping habits of Dads. Millennials with kids are a breed of Dad much more likely to shop.

While 45 percent of Dads in general report splitting or largely managing the grocery shopping for their families, 80 percent of fathers ages 35 and younger report being either the majority grocery buyer for their family, or splitting the task evenly with their spouse.  

The majority of millennial Dads also report buying all or most of their own clothes, and 65 percent claim to at least do some of the shopping for their children’s clothes.  

Millennial Dads are still rather unlikely to use coupons, but they are more likely to do product research online and particularly favor mobile as the search tool.  

As With All Questions About Fatherhood – The Answer Is In The Movie “Field of Dreams”

“If you build it, they will come.”

And while that is somewhat more poignant when whispered dramatically in a cornfield, the point remains that the Dads of the world, contrary to popular opinion, are not desireless, perfectly content or uninterested in commerce. They are apparently just looking for a commerce experience that involves the retail trifecta: speed, uniformity and specificity.  

Which, as luck would have it, is exactly what the retail commerce ecosystem is building toward anyway using beacons, mobile payments, NFC, contactless, curbside pickup, tailored offerings and the host of other technological breakthroughs we cover each week in SKU.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the Dads out there!


Latest Insights: 

The Which Apps Do They Want Study analyzes survey data collected from 1,045 American consumers to learn how they use merchant apps to enhance in-store shopping experiences, and their interest in downloading more in the future. Our research covered consumers’ usage of in-app features like loyalty and rewards offerings and in-store navigation, helping to assess how merchants can design apps to distinguish themselves from competitors.

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