Before Covid-19, red and pink hearts adorning shop windows was a common sight, acting as a reminder that Valentine’s Day was forthcoming.
Despite its proximity to the crucial Black Friday and Christmas trading period, Valentine’s Day has served as an opportunity for many retailers – particularly those that specialise in gifts, jewellery, chocolate, flowers or wine – to increase sales via campaigns targeted at couples.
Due to the current UK-wide lockdowns resulting in the temporary closure of non-essential shops, many retailers have since paid more attention to their online channels. This has been evident through the introduction of Valentine’s Day promotions and sections on the home page of their websites – making it easy for customers shop for Valentine’s Day gifts amid lockdown.
Retailers know they cannot ignore Valentine’s Day, especially since spending is set to double this year compared with last year, according to retail experts at Emarsys.
Although this correlates with GlobalData’s findings last year when it reported that Valentine’s Day was set to be worth just over £1bn in 2020, up 0.6 per cent on 2019, the lockdown will inevitably present challenges for retailers that have long depended on their shop windows to lure customers.
Nevertheless, Emarsys said lockdown would serve as an opportunity for retailers to double their sales amid pent-up savings from Brits staying home for the majority of 2020. In contrast, GlobalData retail analyst Zoe Mills said customers were likely to spend less overall.
“Some are forced to spend it in separate households and others that would typically have gone for a lavish meal are now spending the day in their home,” Mills told Retail Gazette.
“While many couples will still buy gifts and greetings cards, the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly put a dampener on events and even among those celebrating it is likely to be a more muted affair.”
GlobalData recently found there was likely to be an “explosion of interest in romantic meal kits” instead of fashion-centric gifts, as people seek to create intimate, restaurant-quality dinners at home.
Georgia-Rose Johnson, shopping specialist at finance comparison site Finder, said fewer people were planning to spend money this Valentine’s Day as treating yourselves to your favourite restaurant or bar is off the cards.
Nonetheless, she said retailers shouldn’t turn a blind eye to Valentine’s Day due to the pandemic, but rather “take every opportunity to find ways to connect with consumers” at a time when they can’t visit the high street.
One retailer that has thought this through is Marks & Spencer. The retail stalwart is hosting a Valentine’s themed live food and drink event online on February 10. Attendees from the retailer’s Sparks Live scheme will recieve tips for a Valentine’s Day dinner at home from celebrity maître d’ and wine ambassador Fred Sirieix, who will showcase several of M&S’s Valentine’s Day products.
Meanwhile, with jewellery seen as an archetypal Valentine’s Day present, jewellery retailers such as Tiffany & Co and Ernest Jones have placed promotions as well as an express delivery timer on their websites to lure customers.
This comes at an appropriate time, particularly as 31 per cent of retailers have boosted their online advertising, while 26 per cent have increased online stock availability, according to Barclaycard’s research.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly put a dampener on events”
Moreover, research by Alvarez & Marsal and Retail Economics last year found that as a result of the shift to online shopping, 17.2 million Brits plan on shopping this way permanently after lockdown.
This shift to online shopping means ecommerce platforms are likely to perform well, with customers turning to the likes of Amazon and Etsy for gift ideas. On the other hand, high-street retailers that offer a click-and-collect services will likely seek ways to secure customers this Valentine’s Day.
Notonthehighstreet’s customer and growth director Emilie Mouquot said the online retailer was witnessing an overall increase in spend on occasions and events as “people look to create their own moments of magic at home”.
“Valentines Day and Valentines-related queries were in our top-searched terms as early as the second week in January – at least a week earlier than in 2020,” Mouquot told Retail Gazette.
“Spend has increased significantly year-on-year across all Notonthehighstreet categories relating to Valentines, up 140 per cent on prior year as of February 5.”
Meanwhile, Ernest Jones’ marketing director Elizabeth Galton said the impact of the pandemic restrictions has challenged the retailer to “think differently” about this Valentine’s Day.
“Despite the shift in focus from store to online, we’ve kept the shopping experience alive for our customers,” she said.
“We’ve seen significant adoption of our personalised virtual Talk to an Expert appointments and live chat service, and these are just some of the ways we have adapted our business.
“Our store colleagues guide clients through virtual purchases – enhancing the experience by providing all the advice and counsel they would normally receive in-store.
“Our virtual appointments and virtual try on service for engagement rings have been popular with customers. As a result of these initiatives, we have seen an increase in branded and fine diamonds jewellery sales, traditionally popular time at this time of year.”
Mouquot added that due to pandemic-induced rising trends, such as the rise in homewares and decline in fashion, Notonthehighstreet was highlighting categories including traditional gifting items, food and drink, and homeware and decor after witnessing significant engagement with these categories.
“It’s never been more important to have your finger on the pulse of consumer mindset”
“It’s never been more important to have your finger on the pulse of consumer mindset and to bake flexibility and agility into your ‘plans’,” she said.
“If the pandemic has demonstrated anything, it’s how quickly product and category trends can wax and wane on the basis of a simple press conference or change in the weather, so retailers should do all they can to consider how to bring flexibility and agility into their planning and campaign cycles.
“Consumer purchasing decisions are more cause and purpose-led than ever, so it’s also vital brands are looking at how they can genuinely lean into the enduring trend for conscious consumerism cemented by the pandemic.
“As a marketplace specifically designed to support the UK’s small creative businesses, we’re seeing a growing number of consumers actively choosing to support small businesses and minority-owned companies, and seeking out brands and products that are ethical or more sustainable.”
Mouquot argued that although traditional Valentines searches, including greeting cards, gifts and date nights are still performing strongly. She said this year Notonthehighstreet has seen searches for “Galentines” cards and gifts increase by 120 per cent in the past week, with searches for “friendship gifts” and “hug” also sitting in the top searched for items on site.
Meanwhile, Mills added that despite the poor outlook for Valentine’s Day, there was still an opportunity for retailers to capitalise on the event. She told Retail Gazette that grocers were best placed to succeed.
“Supermarkets must highlight romantic meal offers as a substitute for a meal in the restaurant as restaurants stay shut,” Mills explained.
“This coupled with non-essential stores remaining shut over this occasion means that the grocers will be able to capitalise on last-minute shoppers shopping for gifts.
“Non-essential retailers, including florist and jewellery specialist must focus on fast fulfilment as well as highlighting order-by delivery times to ensure consumers get their gifts in time for Sunday.”
Although this has not specifically been in response to Valentine’s Day, Sainsbury’s most recently matched prices with discounter Aldi on hundreds of grocery items in an effort to lure customers. While this comes at a convenient time, the grocery sector can expect further price wars as supermarkets attempt to capitalise on the closure of hospitality.
By utilising their customer channels and capitalising on online, click-and-collect and home delivery, retailers can still expect to thrive during this year’s unconventional Valentine’s Day.
Undoubtedly, store windows have attracted shoppers in the past with their flamboyant displays, but a store-only presence is arguably unviable in the long term as present-day customers expect a seamless online channel.
Given that this third lockdown has forced bars, restaurants and leisure centres to close, eating out, visiting the cinema and such activities are no longer available to couples who preferred this to shopping.
This doesn’t mean Valentine’s Day is taking a year off. Not at all. Brits are still going to splurge – but it would all mostly happen online.