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Retailers want you to shop for your pop

A sign advertises Father's Day gifts at a Home Depot store in Atlanta this month. The home improvement giant is among retailers placing more emphasis on Father's Day this year.
A sign advertises Father's Day gifts at a Home Depot store in Atlanta this month. The home improvement giant is among retailers placing more emphasis on Father's Day this year.John Bazemore / AP
/ Source: contributor

When it comes to expressing gratitude to Mom, consumers overwhelming say it with flowers, meals out and maybe a beautifully wrapped package or two. And Dad? On his day he may get a card, although even that is not guaranteed as Father’s Day is only the No. 5 card-sending occasion, according to American Greetings.

While phoning Mom makes Mother’s Day one of the busiest calling days of the year, Dad also gets calls on his big day. But he may be the one ending up paying for them. “Father’s Day consistently ranks among our top collect calling days,” says Gina Giamanco, spokesperson for AT&T.

For Mother’s Day, 1-800-FLOWERS promoted designer flower arrangements. For Father’s Day, they have baskets of salami and cheese.

In short, while consumers spend some serious cash and thought on proclaiming their love for Mom — roughly $13.8 billion this past May, according to the National Retail Federation — when it comes to Dad, retailers are hoping to reach the $9 billion mark. 

While still a serious budget for a daylong celebration, it is less than what American consumers spend wooing their valentines, and even the Easter Bunny sees more spending action than Dad. In fact, since 2003, when spending on Mom and Dad was almost even, Father’s Day spending has remained fairly flat while Mother’s Day spending accelerated.

Should Dad take this personally? 

Sears thinks so. The retailer is encouraging dads to speak up and ask for what they really want, preferably power tools and plasma TVs.

"I think women find it easier to verbalize what they want," says Corinne Gudovic, a Sears spokeswoman. "Dads seem more likely to say, ‘Oh, I don’t need anything,.’"

Sears’ official response to the problem is a tongue-in-cheek promotional campaign urging  fathers to share their feelings.

"We are trying to elevate Father’s Day to a Christmas-like status," says Gudovic. The campaign encourages dads to make Father’s Day wish lists and sing songs of Father’s Day cheer such as "We Grill You Another Bratwurst" — which puts meat on the bones of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" — and the joyful "Power Tools," sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells."

To make sure its shoppers catch the paternal holiday spirit, Sears dispatched roving bands of caroling dads to its stores in Chicago and New York. 

"Comparing mom spending to dad spending may not be fair," says Scott Krugman of the National Retail Federation, which keeps tabs on holiday spending expectations. "Moms just seem to need more than a greeting card and flowers, and that adds to their holiday’s expense. Dads require less. Basically, Mom is just higher maintenance than Dad." 

That seems to be borne out by some recent surveys of fathers.

When credit-card company Discover asked fathers what they wanted for Father’s Day, the most popular answer was greeting cards, followed by a nice meal with family — home-cooked or otherwise. A survey conducted by, a free online Web site for fathers, similarly found dinner with family was the clear winner.  Family time was also the landslide winner in a LEGO-sponsored poll involving dads of young children.

Seemingly dads are not as into big-ticket items as moms and certainly not as much as retailers would like them to be. Their wants seem much simpler and, according to the surveys, do not include ties.

“Ties don’t cut it like beef does,” says Beth Weiss, corporate communications director for Omaha Steaks. Father’s Day is a huge day for the direct-response marketer and retailer of beef.

“Our Father’s Day volume is second only to Christmas,” she adds. “With many of our customers having standing orders for a Father’s Day box of beef, it is part of their family tradition.  They consider it the gift of an occasion — bringing the family together over a grill.” 

“I’m not surprised,” says James McLaughlin, a dad from La Grange, Ill., whose family will be sharing in a multigeneration barbecue this Sunday. “In this health-conscious age, it is the one day fathers are assured of getting the green light to eat the biggest piece of beef on the platter.”

As to what he expects for Father’s Day, McLaughlin echoes the expectations of many dads and will certainly disappoint non-beef purveyors.

“I don’t really look forward to the gifts but to the time," he said. "It’s time I usually spend with my dad, and that’s really all I want.  Well, that and not having to change any diapers.” 

With an attitude like that, Father’s Day spending may never catch up with Mother’s Day, but it certainly reflects the essence of fatherhood just the same.