Valentine's Day in the Time of Covid

Jan 28, 2021
Written by Sandrine Thompson

Valentine’s Day in these wild, modern times is a very important shopping event for retailers. Read on for CJ’s take on what shoppers will be looking for this year and ideas on how to maximize Valentine’s Day success in the time of Covid-19.

Walking down the street recently, I overheard a woman say to her male companion, “In case you hadn’t noticed, Valentine’s Day is—cough, cough—coming up” and I quietly laughed at the cliché in play. Valentine’s Day may be the ultimate obligatory gifting holiday, yet the percentage of shoppers who buy Valentine’s gifts, and the amount of money they spend, has been increasing steadily since 2017.

According to the National Retail Foundation, Valentine’s Day sales revenue last year in the US was expected to total $27.4B (up 34% from the year prior) and shoppers spent $200 on average. Traditionally, the largest share of Valentine’s revenue is spent on jewelry, dining out, clothing, candy, and flowers. Yet when dining out is not in the cards due to Covid-19 restrictions, how might Valentine’s Day traditions be reinvented?

Here's how we predict the holiday will fare this year along with ways to take action:

Celebrating at Home

Second only to Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day is normally a huge day for restaurants (it is, in fact, the day that many in the industry love to hate). Out of necessity or caution, we anticipate many celebrants will eschew restaurants this year and money normally spent on a nice meal out will instead be funneled into luxurious at-home meals and multiple bottles of expensive wine. Celebrating at home will drive shoppers to visit numerous types of retailers to prepare:

  • Décor: Preparing for a special night in will drive an interest in sprucing up glassware, linens, and adding small décor touches such as candles and decorations. Valentine’s Day 2021 could be a very big shopping event for home and garden retailers similar to the surge home and garden retailers saw in décor sales for the winter holidays. Shoppers will be receptive to promotions on items they will need for this occasion because they want to do something extra to create special experiences for themselves and loved ones. Based on other trends we’ve observed, the urge to be creative with one’s home environment will also drive demand for art supplies—arts and crafts items have surged throughout the pandemic, plus many quarantine-focused Valentine’s Day content is already promoting the concept of an art night at home.
  • Food and Wine: The pandemic has increased the volume of online food and wine sales. In the past year, CJ has seen sales of food and drink products surge +50% YOY. We fully expect that affiliate shoppers will leverage the ease of shopping online to explore specialty food and beverage items, including meal kits, to prepare for celebrating at home. In addition, without restaurant mark ups, fancy wines and spirits will be more in demand for home consumption. A pandemic behavior reported by The New York Times found that the money that people would normally put towards restaurants or travel is being spent on expensive spirits instead.

Ways to Take Action:

  • Implement Product Feeds to capture searches and empower publishers. When seeking out décor, food, and wine items for stay-at-home celebrations, shoppers will no doubt harness the power of search. They need to find retailers selling their items and will be responsive to deals they encounter when they find what they need. For advertisers, the best way to empower publishers to promote your products and put them in front of these shoppers is through product feeds.
  • Organize your content partnerships. For events requiring fresh ideas, tips, product ideas, and product deals all wrapped up in one, Valentine’s Day shoppers will lean heavily on bloggers, lifestyle writers, and content commerce sites. Now is the time to create Publisher Groups especially for content publishers​. Grouping allows you to send email campaigns, push out program terms and performance incentives, as well as provide exclusive links and promotions only to a certain targeted group of publishers. Plus, you can review reporting by group to track how your optimization efforts are performing.

Gifts for Friends & Fido

According to a 2020 survey by Prosper Insights, half of all Valentine’s Day sales are purchased for recipients other than a romantic partner—in fact, after other family members, friends are the most popular Valentine’s gift recipient, followed by coworkers. Yet this year we expect gifts for the family pet will likely edge out coworkers, due to the explosion in pet ownership that took place in 2020. This year digital marketers should expand the products they promote as Valentine’s Day gifts by considering two new audiences:

  • Galentine’s Day: The tradition of Galentine’s Day as an event for women to celebrate friendships with other “gals” is alive and well, with many brands and department stores having already created on-site Galentine’s gift guides. Originating from the comedy TV series, Parks and Recreation, Galentine’s is a pre-Valentine’s Day experience on February 13th involving brunch, drinks, and the exchanging of gifts entirely separate from any celebrations with one’s partner. This year the absence of in-person gatherings means many people are looking to create a shared experience, such as making a meal, mixing cocktails, playing a game together or hosting a virtual pajama party. This presents an ideal opportunity for programs that sell trivia games, cozy lounge wear, glassware, teas, cookbooks, and baking supplies.
  • Pets: Survey data shows that 27% of shoppers will treat their pets to a Valentine’s Day gift and that the average shopper had earmarked roughly $12 for their pets’ Valentines. Pet owners are likely looking for small, but special ways to treat their pets, and this could include new collars, leashes, sweaters, chew toys, and treats. Many of these items, especially themed treats, and chew toys, can be presented as upsell items to shoppers who might be shopping intentionally for other giftees. More than 67% of US households own a pet and 38% of US households buy pet products online. For marketers, this audience of gift buyers presents a growing opportunity to target both this year and in the years ahead.

Ways to Take Action:

  • Position Valentine’s Day messaging to appeal to all relationships—family, friends, and pets. The expanded audience for Valentine’s Day gifts means that marketers need to create messaging focused on diverse personas. Publishers can take advantage of these additional personas’ needs by releasing targeted Valentine’s Day gift guides, placements, and promotions.
  • Utilize targeting and commissioning: Reach consumers about gift ideas, gifts, and services for Valentine’s Day with Promotional Property Commissioning. This feature allows advertisers to define commission rates by promotional property and target a desired publisher's site or promotional channel with no additional integration effort necessary.
  • Discover new partnerships: Advertisers can utilize the Recruit Partners tool and publishers can use the search functionality in the Advertisers tab to identify additional recruitment opportunities prior to the holiday. Search by respective category, vertical, and focus to find a perfect fit.

Don’t forget…

  • Promote your free shipping and guaranteed delivery dates. Shipping policies are deciding factors for shoppers and it’s more important than ever to highlight these in publisher communication and promotions.
  • Highlight “buy online, pick up in store” and gift wrap services. Last minute buyers will appreciate the ability to transact online and pick up locally. Being able to ship a nicely wrapped gift directly to a giftee is an appealing option when gifts cannot be exchanged in person.

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