Digital Magic And The Modern Mom

Mothers are special people.

Moms kiss scraped knees, edit term papers, cook meals, clean rooms and listen to Disney soundtracks on repeat for days, even months. Moms cheer us on from the sidelines and celebrate our birthdays by telling us how lucky she is to have brought us into the world.

That’s why Americans will collectively spend $23 billion this year buying tokens of appreciation for their mothers in the form of flowers, cards, candy and consumer electronics that they will give to them on Sunday, May 13: Mother’s Day.

Those gifts will be one of only two a year the average consumer will have to buy — Valentine’s Day is the other. Moms are unofficially and officially responsible for buying all other gifts given over the course of the year — birthdays, graduations, weddings, engagements and first communions. In fact, when it comes to shopping for others, moms wear the crown.

Mothers do most of the grocery shopping in the U.S., and over 80 percent of mothers report going to the grocery store more than once a week.

At 2–3 times a month, the mothers of the nation shop and complete orders for consumer goods (toys, clothing, tech devices) — more than any other demographic group on average.

About 20 percent of moms purchase consumer goods at least once a week — also more than any other demographic group. Additionally, they buy a lot of our clothes: Seventy-eight percent of all mothers report buying all or most of their children’s clothing, while 62 percent report buying all or most of their spouse’s clothing.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that if moms stopped shopping, the American economy would be in a world of hurt.

Seriously, if you haven’t already, go buy the mother in your life something nice. She’s keeping society afloat.

But however many karats one chooses to express their gratitude with this weekend, the merchants of the digital age are saying thank you their own way — by selling to mothers in a way that takes the time sting out of shopping.

In a world where everything can be automated, merchants are ready to help the moms of American feed, clothe and amuse their offspring without thinking about it too much.

Digital Dinners

Dinnertime for mothers everywhere is the most stressful two-hour block of the day, particularly if it follows 10 hours of work. Meal kits in general have marketed to that, highlighting that their ingredients are delivered, measured and can be neatly apportioned into a hot, fresh and wholesome homecooked meal, all in 30 minutes.

But mom (or dad) still has to cook that meal. And, as various reviews of various services indicate, pretty much universally that 30 minutes is something of a generous estimate of time that does not include distractions that may pop up while one is cooking for a family.

Meet Yumble — the dinner service for the mom who wants wholesome and healthy but would prefer not to have to cook it up herself. The firm was co-founded by HelloFresh Co-Founder Dan Treiman and Joanna and David Parker and bills itself as offering no-cook “Happy Meals made with Whole Foods.”

On offer: Smack and Cheese, whole grain noodles mixed with cheese and squash and then baked into a cupcake shape and eaten either cold or reheated. They also offer Chicken Parm Pops — a baked chicken tender served on a lollipop stick that comes with a variety of dipping sauces.

The boxes also come loaded with snacks like Protein Poppers, which are made with sunflower butter, oats, chocolate chips and honey. Yumble is subscription-based and charges $7.99 per meal for six meals a week, $7.49 per meal for 12 meals a week and $6.99 per meal for 24 meals per week.

“From a customer standpoint, we’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make this fun and something kids really engage with,” David Parker noted in an interview with TechCrunch. “I think our brand is very kid-first and fun.”

Clothing on Autopilot

Moms buy the vast majority of children’s clothing in the U.S., and as anyone who has ever gone shopping with a young child can attest, it’s not the most Instagrammable part of parenthood.

But these days, there are an awful lot of services — big and small — hoping to create a world where no mother ever has to full-body tackle a child into a fitting room again.

“Every season, my kids had outgrown the previous season’s clothes, and I was replacing complete wardrobes. It was time-consuming and expensive and, frankly, not much fun,” Rockets of Awesome Founder and CEO Rachel Blumenthal noted in an interview.

Rockets of Awesome is the best-established brand in the kids clothing subscription box startup scene — offering busy moms a delivery of 12 curated pieces of clothing four times a year. Those items tend to range in price from $12–$38 a pop, which is slightly more than Old Navy and slightly less than Gap Kids, and parents can keep all or none of the items they receive. (There is a $20 charge per box, though that money is put toward whatever purchased items are selected.) Customers who keep all 12 items receive a 25 percent discount, and the curation is based on what items the user has chosen in the past — and what information is included in the profile set-up and sign-on.

That user data also goes into the design of the clothing, as Rockets of Awesome, unlike others in the clothing box game, sells its own in-house brand of clothes instead of aggregating from other brands.

Kidbox — it’s largest competitor, which just took in $15 million in new funding — on the other hand, offers its curated boxes of children’s clothes based on a wide range of brands. At launch, Kidbox carried around 30 kid’s brands. It’s since grown its assortment to more than 100 brands for kids ages newborn through 14.

The process is similar to Rockets of Awesome. After a profile is created, the system curates a box of 12 pieces shipped out to the customer four times a year. From there, the system sorts algorithmically to see what it should send in the future based on what the customer has chosen in the past. It’s a bit less expensive than Rockets of Awesome — boxes clock in at around $100 a piece — and it comes with other personalized touches to make it more kid-friendly, like small toys, pencil cases, crayons and colorable boxes.

Because, for moms, it isn’t just about feeding and clothing one’s offspring.

It’s about entertaining them too.

Alexa and Amazon: Mom’s New Little Helper

That Amazon has spent a lot of time, treasure and thought marketing its services to the moms of the world is not controversial or even interesting. From the auto-restocking in Prime Pantry to the recipes (and ingredients) waiting on the front page of the Amazon Family portal to the fact that Alexa can now read a bedtime story to any child that asks for one, team Amazon is clearly trying to be the best friend to every mom.

Spring 2018 has seen the company renew those efforts — in both old- and new-school ways.

In the old-school edition, Amazon now has a kid-focused subscription box all its own; and for its maiden voyage, they’re back to selling books. Through the program, customers will be able to purchase age-appropriate boxes of books curated by Amazon’s team of editors.

“These books include classics that have stood the test of time, as well as hidden gems that our editors couldn’t put down — stories that your reader can enjoy again and again,” Amazon wrote on its website. “We will also use your recent purchase history to avoid including a book you have already purchased on”

Customers will be able to subscribe to books at one, two or three months at a time. And each box of books will come at a cost of $22.99 — a savings of about 35 percent over the list price of the books, Amazon said.

While Amazon offering curated book selections for kids may seem like a small offering — considering the dazzling range of activity and toy-based subscription boxes for kids already out there — we would note it is always worth watching where Amazon is going.

They do like to start with books, after all.

With enough interest and enough data on what kids like to read about? We suspect that, with time, they could probably crank out a highly curated series of activity boxes focused around children and their specific interests.

If one is worried that living in a world where everything can be ordered at the tap of a button — or by ordering Alexa to do it — might lead to a generation of spoiled children who don’t understand that they should be grateful for growing up in the future…

Good news. There’s an Alexa app for that too.

Parents, according to reports, were becoming concerned the virtual assistant was perhaps not the best formative experience for children, who tend to like interacting with Amazon’s devices, to be continually barking orders to get things they want.

So, Alexa has now become a gentle enforcer of etiquette.

Very gentle.

She will not refuse service or ask for the magic word if asked directly by a child to do something. She will stoically comply. But, if asked nicely, if the child throws a please into the request, Alexa is now wired to positively reenforce the behavior by thanking the child for saying please.

It has never been easy to be someone’s mother, and probably never will be. No matter how far technology advances, motherhood will probably always mean being thrown-up on periodically — both metaphorically and literally. But in the digital age, there’s now technology — and very advanced artificial intelligence — dedicated to the problems of feeding, clothing, amusing and civilizing one’s children, a thing that has been true at no other era of history.

There is something to be said for progress.

Now, if we could only get robots sufficiently advanced to load and unload a dishwasher

Truth be told, we can live without that robot, but it would be nice. But where, oh where would we be without our moms?

Happy Mother’s Day!