By Paul Conley, Content Marketing Director, The NPD Group

The differences between the generations’ moms are bigger, and more important, than you might expect

Call her Mom. Or call her Ma. Or even call her Mommie Dearest. She’s the most influential character in most of our lives.

The woman with young kids at home is also the most influential shopper in dozens of categories.

If you make or sell clothes, beauty supplies, food, toys, appliances, shoes, or most anything else, you need mothers’ love to succeed.

Once, not all that long ago, that love was a bit easier to win. All moms were different, but most of them tended to fit into the same general categories. They were all about the same age. They all watched the same TV shows, visited the same stores, and bought the same stuff. If you were a detergent company that advertised soap on the soap operas in the 1950s and 60s, for example, you tended to do well. The Baby Boomer moms also tended to cluster in their preferences. Everyone watched Family Ties and All in the Family. Everyone wore L’eggs and Levi’s.

But things change.

Our culture has fragmented. And now mothers are no more easily stereotyped than anyone else.

Complicating matters is that in today’s America there are two distinct generations of moms with young kids.

The moms who are part of Generation X, roughly ages 35 to 50 this year, altered mom style tremendously when they became adults.

But the members of Generation Y, who are approximately 18 to 34 years old in 2015, are the moms you’re most likely to see pushing a stroller these days. And the data shows that these Millennial moms are exhibiting preferences and behaviors that can be quite different from those of Gen X mothers.

When The NPD Group decided to compare Gen X and Gen Y moms, we mined several of our data sources — some based in surveys, others based in tracking actual purchases — to learn what behaviors defined the two groups. We found the differences between the two generations of moms fall into four distinct areas: what they buy, where they buy it, how they shop, and what types of marketing resonates with them.

So let’s look at them one at a time.


Don’t make me come up there!

Most retailers would no doubt like to have both generations of mothers visit their establishments and Websites. When you sell what moms buy, you want to sell to everyone’s mom. No retailer markets itself out to be just for Gen X moms or only for Gen Y moms.

Yet the two generations have distinct preferences about where they shop. Retailers that overindex for one group tend to underindex for the other.

The data are often quite surprising. Gen Y moms, for example, are less likely than Gen X moms (and the general public) to shop at locally-owned establishments and buy locally-grown food. Millennial moms are more likely to shop at brick-and-mortar stores as a result of a new baby or growing child than are older moms.

In fact, the store preferences of the two generations vary considerably


“Who said age doesn’t matter?” asks Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group. “Looking at the differences between Gen X and Gen Y moms’ age makes a big difference. Target and Walmart have Gen Y’s loving to shop there and Gen X’s just liking it. Millennial moms are about speed at checkout and one-stop shopping, more so than older moms.”

The big names and big boxes

Millennial moms are more likely than Gen X moms to shop at Toys “R” Us, Gap, Target, and Babies “R” Us. Mothers in the Gen Y segment are more likely to shop at Amazon, Children’s Place, and home stores.

In general, Gen Y moms have more extreme affinity to big box retailer brands:

Gen Y moms are 38 percent more likely than Gen X moms to “like” shopping at Dollar General. They’re also more likely to like/love Dollar Tree. But they’re less likely than Gen X moms to like or love Family Dollar.

You can’t make this stuff up

When buying makeup, these two groups of mothers approach the process differently.

How easy is that?

Convenience factors are a greater draw for Millennial mothers than they are for the other demos, online or offline. Perhaps growing up with the Web and other convenient technologies, they’ve come to expect convenience everywhere.

Convenience is more important to mothers than to women without kids. For example, 68 percent of older moms and 67 percent of younger moms shop at stores they consider the most convenient—compared to only 63 percent of Millennial non-moms.

Millennial women (and Millennial moms to a greater degree) are deterred by brick-and-mortar shopping due to a lack of convenience more so than older moms. They’re attracted to online shopping because of its convenience to a greater degree than the other age segments.

NPD data also shows mothers care more about flexible return policies than women without children.

And Millennial moms care more than older moms about a fast and easy checkout experience (47 percent compared to 36 percent of older moms), a well-organized store, items being in-stock, and stores having the styles and selection they’re looking for.

But—Millennial moms are more likely to select a retailer if they can go in one large trip and shop in multiple departments.

How does she do it?

The mechanics of how moms shop vary greatly between the women of Gen X and Gen Y.

And once again, the data shows the stereotypes about the generations are misleading. For example, Gen X moms use reusable shopping bags more than the supposedly more ecoconscious Gen Y moms.

Gen Y moms care more about price than do Gen X moms (they probably have a lower income)— but buy more organic food than do Gen X moms.

Another example involves coupon clipping, an activity that no one thinks of as youth-focused or fashionable. But it turns out that Millennial moms care more about coupons than do other demographics. When selecting a retailer, 36 percent of Millennial-generation mothers place importance on retailers regularly providing coupons, compared to only 30 percent of older moms and 28 percent of women without children.

Gen Y’s interest in coupons may be more aspirational than real, however. Gen X moms use coupons when shopping more often than do Gen Y moms. Gen Y moms use coupons less often than the general public.

It takes a village

Moms are more likely than the general public to do the majority of grocery shopping for their home. But Gen Y moms do a little less shopping themselves, compared to Gen X moms. Gen Y moms’ roommates or parents do an extra 3 percent of the shopping.

Can we afford it?

In general, mothers (both old and young) are more price-conscious than Millennial women who don’t have kids. The data shows 83 percent of older moms seek out the best prices when they shop, compared to 77 percent of younger moms and 71 percent of Millennial non-moms. But Millennial moms are 25 percent more likely than non-moms and 10 percent more likely than older moms to select a retailer based on affordability. Millennial-generation mothers also care more about a retailer offering good value for the money. Moms in general claim to have spent less recently as a result of economic factors—Millennial moms a bit more so than older moms (61 percent vs. 60 percent). Only 55 percent of Millennial women without kids make this claim. Cyber moms Mothers are more likely than average consumers to use their smartphones to research products before purchase. Gen Y moms say they use smartphones “very frequently” nearly twice as much as Gen X moms. (This is not surprising, given younger people’s affinity for technology.) Moms love to shop — except when they don’t It seems like Millennial moms are either more picky/finicky in their shopping, or they take greater care in ensuring shopping experiences are to their liking. The only areas where older moms score considerably higher than Millennial moms are, “I only shop when I need something,” “I do the majority of the shopping for my household,” and “I seek out the best prices.” In general, moms (both old and young) enjoy shopping more than Millennial women without children. But older moms are 12 percent more likely than young moms to only shop when they need something. They’re less into recreational shopping, and they like to shop more quickly than young moms. Perhaps this is related to the fact that older moms do more of the shopping for their households. (80 percent of older moms do the majority of the household shopping, compared to only 59 percent of younger moms.)

Older moms are more likely to shop for everything, do the majority of shopping for their households, shop at stores that are most convenient, and see out the best prices. On the other hand, Millennial moms are more likely to seek out the best brands, and they’re more likely to blame economic factors for spending less recently.

Did you get me anything?

Freud famously asked, “What do women want?” Retailers and manufacturers ask a similar question: what does Mom want to buy?

As it turns out, moms want stuff that’s perceived to be good. Moms of all ages care more about the best products and brands when they shop than do non-moms.

But looking deeper into the data, it becomes clear that Gen X and Gen Y moms have different ideas of what is good and what’s worth spending money on. Millennial moms, for example, care more about brands than their slightly older sisters in Mom-ville.

Treat yourself

When they splurge on themselves, Gen X moms are more likely to buy spa treatments than are Gen Y moms. Gen Y moms are more likely to buy clothing and an expensive meal than are Gen X moms.

Gen Y Moms are more likely to regularly drink sports drinks, energy drinks, bottled fruit/tea drinks, regular soda, and vitamin/health water.

Save the planet

Gen X and Y moms are equally likely to say they regularly consume health/natural/no-preservative/organic food brands (both indexed 124 to total population).

Gen X and Gen Y moms are on par with the total population (didn’t overindex) for using eco-friendly/green products (index 107 and 104 respectively).

Gen Y moms buy more organic food than do Gen X moms.

Video Mom

Gen X moms overindex for owning/using tablets and streaming media players, while Gen Y Moms overindex for owning/using video game systems.


Don’t talk that way to your mother!

“Kid tested. Mom approved.”

“Choosy mothers choose Jif”

Some of the best-known advertising campaigns in history have been about mothers’ struggles to do the right thing by their families. And an entire subgenre has emerged to help families thank moms for what they do.

Our favorite is this one. Go ahead. Watch. Shed a tear

Perhaps the lesson here is that moms are awesome, no matter what generation they belong to. And although that may be true, it’s also true that some of the marketing approaches that resonate with Gen X moms don’t work well for Gen Y moms, and vice versa.

What will people think?

Social media has a slightly higher influence on the food Gen Y moms buy than on the food Gen X moms buy.

Millennial moms want to feel like retailers care about them and their experience, and that a sales/service team is respectful—more so than older moms.

PR vs. ads

When selecting a retailer, Millennial moms are 58 percent more likely than older moms to value visibility in advertising, and they are 32 percent more likely than older moms to place importance on what they hear about a retailer in the news. So if you head up advertising or PR on the retailer side, it would serve you well to target the younger mom demographic in your campaigns.

Cost vs. value

Price is more important than brand for Gen Y moms than compared to Gen X moms. Gen X moms place more weight on a balance of brand/price in their shopping. Gen X moms’ loyalty to brands has more to do with quality than it does for Gen Y mothers. Brand loyalty has more to do with service for Gen Y moms than it does for their Gen X counterparts.

Movie stars and other famous folks

If you’re looking for a celebrity endorsement, some celebrities stand out as good choices for both Gen X and Gen Y moms, according to The NPD Group’s BrandLink service. For example, Adam Levine (index 193 and 169, respectively) and Tyler Perry (index 156 and 192, respectively) may be good fits.

If you want to target Gen X Moms, you could Daisy Fuentes and Julia Roberts (index 149 and 144, respectively) — but these could miss the target for Gen Y Moms (index 82 and 93, respectively).

To target Gen Y Moms, you’d take a different approach and use Emma Stone and James Franco (index 204 and 174, respectively) — but those folks wouldn’t be great for Gen X Moms (index 83 and 87, respectively).


If you’d like to know more about the differences between the mom generations and how Gen X and Gen Y moms view your business, contact us today.

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