[Study] No Time To Shop, No Time To Plan: How Busy Moms Use Smartphones To Keep Up With The Holiday Season

on The Future of Advertising


As we tumble past Halloween and hurtle towards Thanksgiving, with Christmas looming uncomfortably close in the distance, we’re coming into the thick of the annual shopping crush.

There is no more influential demographic on shopping trends at the holiday season than Moms. In the USA alone, there are 85.4 million Moms with a combined spending power of $2.1 trillion, controlling approximately 85 percent of all household income.

Moms carry a heavy load at the holidays: balancing family-life and professional pressure, with major holiday meals to plan and a roster of people to buy gifts for. To get a sense of these buying behaviors and seasonal demands, Sharethrough surveyed 1,000 mothers, aged 18-54, using Qualtrics as our research partner, asking them about both hosting holiday events and buying gifts.

What we found was that Moms face a real holiday time-crunch, struggling with two core challenges: finding time to plan, and finding inspiration for gifts and meals.

The clear takeaway from our research though: with both of these challenges, smartphones are playing a key role in how Moms are navigating the holidays.


Moms struggling to find the time to research for ideas and shop for the holidays are turning in large numbers to their smartphones for help. The smartphone is the primary research tool for most Moms at the holidays: 70 percent of all Moms surveyed said they expected it to be their go-to device for holiday research this year, far exceeding tablets or desktop computers.

Smartphones are used widely for purchasing as well as research, but they have slightly less penetration as a point of sale tool. Almost half (48 percent) of Moms expected it to be their primary device for holiday buying. Comfort levels here vary wildly by age: 62 percent for Moms under the age of 35 use it for purchasing, in comparison with just 33 percent for Moms over the age of 35.

This time crunch for Moms is widespread. 43 percent of Moms surveyed said that finding time to plan their event was very challenging for them at the holidays. 42 percent found finding new ideas a major challenge, while 40 percent found menu planning challenging.

More than half of Moms (53 percent) begin holiday event planning less than a month before the holidays: this includes menu planning, decorating, and choosing where to buy items.

In contrast, 76 percent of Moms said they had done all of their budget planning at least one month out from the event, which means while budgets might be set months out, the actual menu is still being decided upon much closer to the actual day.

Time-pressed Moms are either planning at home, or planning on the fly while they’re out shopping. Home was the main place that Moms said they expected to do most of their holiday planning for events and buying gifts (94 percent expected to plan at home). 38 percent of Moms said they will be planning while they are shopping in physical stores, which reflects a lack of time to spend planning in their everyday life.


For Moms at the holidays, digital media has far overtaken TV as the primary driver for new menu ideas and gift buying inspiration: 76 percent go to retail websites for inspiration for gifts to buy, compared to 43 percent who look to TV.

Meanwhile, 47 percent of Moms use social media for menu planning, and 33 percent turn to digital magazines and blogs, compared with 24 percent for TV. When looking for new meal ideas, 58 percent of Moms turned to food blogs or websites to discover new recipes, compared with 31 percent who relied on TV.

Moms are drawing holiday inspiration online from a wide variety of digital content types. 87 percent said in-depth product reviews had a strong influence over their gift purchases, roughly three-quarters said they were strongly influenced by product testimonials (79 percent) and articles (74 percent) and two-thirds were influenced by gift guides (67 percent) and product videos (66 percent).

In-Feed native ads are the most influential ad format on holiday purchasing decisions for Moms, with Moms frequently searching brands out online after seeing sponsored content. 39 percent of Moms said they perform online searches about brands after reading native ad headlines. Almost two-thirds of Moms said an in-feed sponsored recipe post or sponsored article was likely to have an impact on their holiday purchasing decisions and 53 percent said the same of sponsored video.

Moms expressed much higher preferences for native ads versus non-native placements: 50 percent of Moms said a pre-roll video playing before a YouTube video would be likely to influence their purchasing decisions, while 33 percent said a sponsored video playing in the middle of an article they’re reading would influence them.