How COVID-19 impacted holiday shopping plans?

What do people purchase when they shop for Valentine’s Day gifts? Aside from predictable staples like flowers, shoppers have traditionally leaned towards the experiential, including dinner or a night out. However, year over year data from our surveys suggests that this may be changing, and it could represent an emerging opportunity for eCommerce brands.

Overall, Valentine’s Day participation was up. 57% of surveyed consumers indicated that they celebrated the holiday this year, compared to 47% in 2019.

The majority of those who celebrated – 76% – made a purchase of some kind. Their spending also trended up; 31% of Valentine’s Day consumers told us that they spent more this year, while 45% spent about the same. Just 13% of survey respondents reported spending less than they did in 2019.

How much did you spend this Valentine’s Day compared to last year?

How 2020 Valentine's Day spending compared to 2019 Source: Bizrate Insights Flash Survey, February 2020.

Even more significantly, the items they purchased, and the channels they used, shifted in ways that appear more favorable to online brands. Increasingly, shoppers are buying their Valentine’s gifts digitally, and favoring tangible gifts over experience-based ones.

The top Valentine’s Day purchase was dinner, with 39% of consumers splurging on a meal out, but this is a 6% decrease from 2019. Other experiential purchases, like going to the movies, dropped from 11% to 5%, while spa experiences dropped from 8% to 4%.

By contrast, the purchase rates of physical gifts remained steady or even showed signs of growth. 26% of consumers bought flowers for Valentine’s Day in 2020, compared to 22% the previous year, and clothing purchases grew from 11% to 14%.

What type of gift or experience did you buy this Valentine’s Day?

What people bought for Valentine's Day in 2020 Source: Bizrate Insights Flash Survey, February 2020.

Although eCommerce purchases only accounted for about 11% of annual retail sales last year, a much higher percentage of 2020 survey respondents – 36% – reported that they bought their Valentine’s Day gifts online. This is a 6% increase from the previous year, indicating surprising growth for a holiday not generally associated with eCommerce.

Consumers are also trending towards buying their gifts earlier in the year, giving online brands time to promote sales and ship items in time to arrive by February 14th. 40% of shoppers bought their item in the first 10 days of February, with an additional 17% making their purchase in January.

When did you purchase your Valentine’s Day gift?

When consumers purchased their 2020 Valentine's Day gifts Source: Bizrate Insights Flash Survey, February 2020.

In general, female shoppers tend to purchase earlier than male shoppers, with 21% of women purchasing Valentine’s gifts in January and 43% doing so in the beginning of February, compared to 14% and 36% of men, respectively.

There are clear signs of change in the traditional purchasing habits of Valentine’s Day shoppers, and it seems increasingly likely that the holiday will soon favor eCommerce. To take advantage of this, digital brands must be proactive. Valentine’s Day sales and deals should be promoted as soon as mid-January to attract early-bird shoppers, and special attention should be paid to emerging gift categories like clothing, specialty items and gift cards. With the right strategy, Valentine’s Day could become a boon to online retailers during an otherwise dormant shopping period.