TORONTO — Some Canadian companies are putting sensitivity ahead of sales in the run up to Mother's Day in acknowledgment of customers who may be dealing with bereavement, estrangement or fertility issues.
Toronto beauty brand Three Ships and Vancouver dinnerware purveyor Fable say they are providing the ability to opt out of marketing material associated with the May 9 celebration.
They follow global brands like Marks & Spencer, Etsy, Aesop, Pandora jewelry and Deliveroo, who have offered opt-outs for Mother's Day, Father's Day or both.
Lillie Sun, a growth marketer with Three Ships, pitched a Mother's Day opt out to the company's founders after receiving a similar email from online marketplace Etsy.
"I have a friend who lost a parent almost a year ago and also someone else really close to me was struggling to get pregnant, and I've always been very conscious around Mother's Day not to bring up memories...that might be uncomfortable," she said.
"I don't know all of our customers, but I'm sure there are people on our email list who are in the same boat... so it was a no-brainer."
It took no convincing to get Three Ships founders Connie Lo and Laura Burget on board, Sun recalled.
Mother's Day is typically a busy season for their brand, but they felt the gesture was the right thing to do and would foster better relations with customers.
Hours after the company sent an email explaining the option, Sun said at least 30 recipients responded praising the idea, sharing why the holiday is so tough for them and telling Three Ships they had customers "for life."
The reaction was just as "overwhelmingly positive" when Fable sent an opt-out email this month.
"While we have had some people opt out, even people who were not opting out were really excited about what we were doing," said chief executive and founder Joe Parenteau.
But allowing customers to avoid some marketing campaigns could put sales at risk.
Average Mother's Day purchases last year in Canada amounted to $20.40 for bakery goods, $87.04 for flowers, $169.28 for sporting goods, $173.57 for cosmetics and $377.99 for jewelry, said payment processor Moneris.
Some of those industries are more likely to rely on the celebration this year because the COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled big revenue generators like weddings and corporate parties.
"Mother's Day is super important because that's all we have right now to make up for the dollars that we're used to getting from events," said Becky De Oliveira, the owner of Toronto floral businesses Bloom School, and Blush and Bloom.
"I am holding onto Mother's Day very tightly right now."
De Oliveira considered sending out an email with Mother's Day promotions to customers, but decided not to after industry friends started chatting about companies backing away from campaigns tied to the day.
She is still promoting Mother's Day items on social media, but regularly posts warnings advising followers to step away from the account if they find it difficult.
Mattress company Endy also edged away from overt Mother's Day marketing, but chose not to send an opt out email.
"We felt that if the purpose of this was to be sensitive, this approach might end up causing more harm," said Sarah Krafman, the company's senior director of brand strategy and communications.
Instead, the Toronto-based mattress company proactively stopped using Mother's and Father's Day messaging in email campaigns and will celebrate parents in "non-promotional ways" on social media.
Such approaches reflect the increasing attention companies are putting on personalizing experiences and being thoughtful towards customers and what they celebrate, said Seung Hwan (Mark) Lee, an associate professor of retail management at Ryerson University.
While some brands might fear that letting people opt out of will hurt sales opportunities, Lee said those who take them up on their offers likely weren't going to buy make a purchase that holiday.
But offering an opt out still has it's troubles, he said.
"You're sort of forcing the person to...make a choice of whether they are part of this day or not and even framing the idea of a Mother's Day or Father's Day opt out reminds them of their loved ones," he said.
It can get even trickier if companies look to apply the strategy to Valentine's Day or December holidays that are not celebrated by everyone or that can be difficult for some.
"It's very difficult for a company to continuously ask individuals to ask they would like to opt out," he said.
He envisions companies will eventually evolve and use data to identify which consumers often avoid their promotions around specific holidays and then tailor their approach to those people based on the habits they discovered.
But he said, ultimately, "Understanding customers more will help you make better decisions on what messages get sent out in the future."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2021.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press