Baker Julie

Mother-Daughter Shopping Leads to Bonding—and an Opportunity for Retailers

It’s a common sight in any retail store: mother and daughter arguing over clothing. Whether it’s about the price or the style, new research by Dr. Julie Baker says these arguments are an important part of mother-daughter bonding—and present a golden opportunity for retailers. 

June 19,  2015

By Maggie Pavlick, Dick Jones Communications

New Research by Julie Baker, professor of marketing, reveals that mother-daughter shopping trips consist of three developmental stages: conflict and struggle, education and influence, and bonding between mother and daughter. 

The first stage, conflict and struggle, can be about budget, contradictory shopping styles or disagreements over clothing mothers might see as revealing, but it’s really about identity.

“The conflict indicates the struggle that the daughter is going through in her efforts to separate from her mother and form her own identity, as displayed through her clothing,” Baker said. “The conflict is complicated, though. Daughters need to feel support and love from their mothers, but they also need to feel a sense of self, distinct from their mothers.”

The second stage, education and influence, gives mothers and daughters a chance to exchange shopping-related information and learn from one another, such as spending money wisely and understanding quality. Daughters, too, influence their mothers by showing them new styles of clothing. 

The last stage, bonding, is a strengthening of the mother-daughter relationship through the shopping experience.

So why does this matter to retailers?

“We found that the benefit of bonding mostly occurs when mothers and daughters experience no conflict, or when the conflict is easily resolved,” Baker said. “Bonding can also lead to both mother and daughter experiencing positive emotions during the shopping experience, causing them to shop longer and spend more money.” 

Young people represent a large and growing segment of consumers in the U.S., and since adolescents don’t usually shop alone, the dynamics between them and their shopping partners influence spending habits, length of time spent shopping, choice of store and purchases made. Less conflict over these elements results in happier experiences, which may result in more purchases.

Because of this, stores are turning their attention to the mother-daughter shopping experience, making it easier for the pair to shop together. For example, Baker’s research suggests that retailers can use major sources of conflict—style and price—to help employees ease conflict by recommending more suitable alternatives to the items in question.

“Retailers targeting younger adolescents should focus on identifying what mothers will allow their daughters to purchase and offer merchandise that appeals to both parties,” Baker said. “By better accommodating both mothers’ and daughters’ desires, conflict may be reduced, which can increase sales and potentially improve the mother-daughter relationship.”

Baker and her colleagues conducted 28 interviews with mother-daughter pairs about their shopping habits and experiences, as well as some retail employees. The paper, titled “Mother-Adolescent Daughter Identity Interplay Processes,” will be published in The Journal of Consumer Marketing and was co-authored by Stephanie T. Gillian, University of Tennessee, and Alexa M. Givan, Sharon E. Beatty, Kyoungmi Kim, and Kristy E. Reynolds, University of Alabama.