By and  on May 9, 2008

This year, even Mother's Day is on sale.

With rising gas and food prices putting a strain on consumers, retailers are discounting items by as much as 75 percent — and in the case of Mervyns, even offering to pay some of mom's bills.

Total spending for Mother's Day is forecast at $15.8 billion, essentially flat with 2007, according to a survey of 8,180 adults that BIGresearch, a Cincinnati-based research firm, did last month for the National Retail Federation. Total spending rose to $13.8 billion from $10.4 billion between 2004 and 2006.

The average consumer will spend $138.63 this year, compared with $139.14 last year, the survey said. The percentage of shoppers buying clothing and accessories, 33.8 percent, was down from 37 percent last year, and the average net amount spent on the categories declined to $12.26 from $14.04.

"Times are tight, and retailers are focused on getting money in their cash register," said Phil Rist, vice president, strategy, BIGresearch. "They are tightening expenses overall, including marketing expenses, and may be more promotional."

Mervyns, the 175-store chain based in Hayward, Calif., is promoting a "We'll Pay Your Bills" sweepstakes drawing. Three winners will get a grand prize — mortgage or rent paid for one month. Ten customers get utilities paid for a month, and more than 150 people will receive a $100 gasoline gift card.

"In light of today's economy, we decided to address mom's most basic needs," said a Mervyns spokeswoman. The chain will extend hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with gift cards for the first 150 customers in each store and $10 gift cards with purchases of at least $50.

Between Wednesday and Saturday, Talbots is offering 25 percent off sweaters, with the purchase of two or more items, in stores, catalogues and online, rather than offering sweepstakes or trip giveaways, as in past years.

"We still do the events and sweepstakes, but just not this time," said a spokeswoman, who stressed that promotions weren't replacing other marketing initiatives.

Major retailers, including Macy's Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Chico's FAS Inc., J. Crew, Dillard's Inc., Kohl's Corp., Nordstrom Inc. and Belk declined to discuss Mother's Day events and promotions. But advertisements, online and in newspapers, indicated sales at Macy's, Penney's, Kohl's and Belk with discounts on women's sportswear, lingerie, and fine jewelry, and accessories from 20 to 75 percent.Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is marking the 100th anniversary of Mother's Day with 100 gift suggestions on its Web site, and held baby showers at military installations around the U.S. for 100 expectant mothers whose spouses are deployed overseas, with gifts donated by Wal-Mart and its suppliers.

The soaring price of gas might be helping online Mother's Day shopping. A survey by New York research firm BrandKeys found the number of consumers shopping online increased 6 percent.

"More women are embracing technology, and retailers are finding online to be a more scalable model," said Michelle Madhock, chief executive officer of and, which market "Mother's Day Fit for a Queen," with products chosen by 40 moms, ranging from a $40 photo book to $900 baby strollers.

"People are waiting till the last minute, and everybody's looking for deals," she said.

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