Love in The Time Of COVID: Valentine’s Day 2021

Love in The Time Of COVID: Valentine’s Day 2021

Key Points

  • For Valentine’s Day 2021, marketers need to consider not just what has been on trend in previous years but what fits our current reality.
  • Candy sales have enjoyed a boost during the pandemic in general, and the brands that accommodated the shift in buying patterns in marketing and delivery have reaped the rewards.
  • A marked trend set by the pandemic is the increase in eCommerce spending and gifts that can be shipped directly to the recipient.

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The evolution of the holiday has opened new markets and that means more marketing opportunities even while total spending takes a dip for 2021.

The National Retail Foundation (NRF) just released its outlook for Valentine’s Day 2021. As anyone who has been paying attention should have been able to anticipate, spending for this holiday, at $164.76 is substantially lower than last year’s record $196.31 average per person spending.

Why This Year Is Different

 For Valentine’s Day 2021, marketers need to consider not just what has been on trend in previous years but what fits our current reality. For example, in the years leading up to 2020  gifts of experiences were increasingly popular. Now, it’s a whole different story.

Given that we are still living under some restrictions due to COVID-19, the experiences are likely not going to be on most people’s gift list. Even dining out – one of the most popular activities for Valentine’s Day – is off the table for some couples either due to the ban on indoor dining or their own concerns.

This is not just speculation but is borne out by NRF’s findings. Only 24% said they would plan a gift of going out. That is “the lowest in the survey’s history.”

Edible Gifts

While fewer will be dining out for Valentine’s Day, the results indicate the food of love is still very much (not music but) food. In fact, edible gifts, and dinners in are high on the agenda for Valentine’s Day 2021 plans.

Again, this should not be surprising given the trends we’ve seen toward increased home-cooking while restaurants were closed, and people started to think of meal prep as a DIY activity to fill the time under lockdown.

(See Not Your Mother’s Tupperware Party and Walmart Adds a Shoppable Cooking Show to its Marketing Recipe.)

According to the NRF, 41% of people making plans for Valentine’s Day are planning on a special at-home celebration and/or dinner. Walmart is certainly targeting that trend with a marketing email it sent at the beginning of February with the subject line “Valentine’s Day at home: Gifts & date-night picks 💘”.

How Sweet Is It!

Even if people are not going all out for a home-cooked dinner, they are thinking about something sweet. According to the NRF, over half are also including candy on their shopping list. That amounts to 54% investing in sweets for the sweet, which is even a higher share than last year’s 52%.

Candy sales have enjoyed a boost during the pandemic in general, and the brands that accommodated the shift in buying patterns in marketing and delivery have reaped the rewards. Among those brands is Hershey, which adapted to digital marketing to boost its sales for holidays.

Hershey’s Chief Growth Officer, Kristen Riggs, spoke about her company’s strategy at a virtual conference hosted by the National Retail Federation. CNBC reported on it the way the candy maker applied a plan for strategic placement.

While brands can’t always control exactly where their products are placed on store shelves, digital ads give them far more control over their position. Hershey capitalized on that by doing things like positioning their ads next to holiday ones and making it easy for a customer to purchase everything needed for baking with a single click.

Another strategy Hershey used was getting its candy out in front of customers – both in brick-and-mortar stores and online – ahead of the usual schedule. It worked out well for Christmas, and so it planned on being ahead of the game for Valentine’s Day, as well.

“There’s just something so special about these seasonal traditions and occasions that kind of lift the spirits in the home,” Riggs said.

The implication is that people wanted to extend that holiday spirit by buying their candy for it earlier, and, no doubt, treating themselves to themed treats ahead of time. Riggs said she was anticipating, “Lots of Valentine’s Day candy bowls and stretched-out celebrations.”

 Sending Love

 One other marked trend set by the pandemic is the increase in eCommerce spending and gifts that can be shipped directly to the recipient. The NRF reports that 39% indicated they would do their shopping online, far ahead of the 29% who plan to visit department stores and the 28% who plan to shop at discount stores.

Flowers are the old standby for Valentine’s Day, and this year is no exception with 36% indicating they’d be buying blooms. Flowers today are easily ordered online and can be shipped wherever needed, so very likely this vertical will contribute to the eCommerce boom.

It’s a pretty safe prediction that online businesses that ship gift baskets packed with treats and other giftable items will also be winners for this holiday. I recently interviewed someone in that business who admitted that their sales were boosted tremendously by COVID-19 because they offer what people send primarily when they can’t be together in person.

That held not just for holidays but for all occasions that people had to miss to maintain social distancing, including birthdays, graduations, new babies, anniversaries, etc. That indicates that, on the one hand, absence may make the heart grow fonder, or at least, more generous.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

On the other hand, though, there is the indication that less togetherness in person weakens the feeling of obligation toward those one may feel less connected with. With school and work having been largely virtual, people haven’t been establishing the same kind of bond at school and at work as they have in the past. As a result, some of the recipients that have been gaining over the past several Valentine’s Days lose ground this year.

The NRF blames the pandemic for smaller amounts being allocated for “teachers, classmates and co-workers, as many continue to social distance.” Loosened school ties result in a drop of nearly a third for spending in that category, from $14.45 to just $10.77 A similar drop is to be found among coworkers, down from $12.96 last year to $8.47.

However, it is unlikely that the most important relationships for people will get less attention this year. The NRF report quotes Prosper Insights Executive Vice President of Strategy, Phil Rist’s observation, “Consumers still feel it’s important to spoil their loved ones in light of the pandemic.”

Putting A Ring on It

The pandemic has stimulated more engagements, and so 2020 has been very good to those in the diamond business. That was what I was told by someone in the industry, and it is substantiated by the seller of diamond rings quoted in The pandemic helped them realize: I want to marry you.

“Although annual statistics for engagements are virtually nonexistent, there’s evidence to suggest the coronavirus pandemic has produced a bumper crop,” according to the article.

And where there is an engagement, there is usually also a diamond ring. Those who have held back on their engagement in 2020 may well pop the question and proffer the ring on or about Valentine’s Day, which is normally among the most popular times to get engaged.

That’s why even though the NRF forecasts a drop off from 21% to 18% for jewelry purchases this Valentine’s Day, I’d venture to say that one jewelry category may actually be higher this year: the engagement ring.

From relatively cheap chocolates to high end diamond rings, there will be many winners this Valentine’s Day, despite the pandemic and lower spending forecast. The brands that position themselves to capitalize on the current customer trends and digital channels should do well this holiday.

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