Marketers are used to the anomalous spikes in shopping that occur around holidays. And they understand that a successful holiday season — from a business and marketing perspective — is contingent on their ability to provide highly satisfying and relevant experiences to customers. Get this right, and increased customer growth, loyalty, and revenue will follow. 

However, no marketer should take for granted that each year’s holiday will be just like the last. We saw this during the 2020 holiday season where marketers had to quickly adapt to the retail and e-commerce changes caused by the pandemic, resulting in the first ever digital-first Black Friday

Valentine’s Day is soon approaching, and serves as a great example of a holiday shopping event where contextual, relevant customer experiences are particularly critical. But what will Valentine’s Day look like this year? How will the customer’s approach to Valentine’s Day shopping change — if at all? And what can retail and e-commerce brands expect, not just for this seasonal event, but for the year to follow?

New global research on customer shopping trends and habits — conducted by Emarsys — gives us an idea of what marketers can anticipate this year. Here’s a summary of what we learned, based on customer responses in some key global markets.

Customers Want to Be Comfy and Casual

For United Kingdom shoppers, this year’s Valentine’s Day is all about being comfy and casual. Research shows that loungewear has been the clothing of choice for UK residents since lockdowns began. 18% of respondents reported investing in loungewear more than any other clothing, which was 3x greater than investment in activewear at 6%. 

In terms of respondents’ most preferred Valentine’s Day gifting option this year, loungewear is nearly as popular as underwear, at 7% and 8% respectively. Overall, however, consumer desire for comfortable attire hasn’t surpassed their desire for sweets — 20% of respondents cite “chocolates” as their preferred gift option. 

In terms of channel purchasing preference, here are a couple of points worth noting:

  • The majority of total respondents (21%) prefer buying Valentine’s Day gifts online because it gives them access to better deals.
  • Of 16- to 24-year-old respondents, 24% prefer buying Valentine’s Day gifts online — especially underwear — because it’s “less embarrassing.”

Tip for Marketers This year’s shoppers are less focused on fancy extravagences (especially where lockdowns are still in effect). Consider personalized offers featuring products you sell that are most associated with providing comfort, like sweets, socks, and sweatpants. 

Customers Are Getting Comfortable With Themselves  

United States shoppers want to be comfortable in their clothes, but also, with themselves. 

Research shows that, although loungewear has been a popular clothing choice for all US shoppers (25% of all respondents have invested in loungewear since the lockdown), it’s female shoppers in particular that have embraced it most in the US, with 31% of female respondents citing loungewear as their biggest clothing investment, compared to men, where 20% of male respondents marked shoes as their primary investment.

But beyond loungewear, clothing decisions for US shoppers appear to be driven by change within, and how they feel about themselves. 31% of respondents agree that “they feel much more comfortable in their own skin recently, and [are] buying clothes to reflect that.” And 30% of respondents stated they feel like they “need to make more effort when it comes to clothes.”

For understanding purchase motivations this year’s Valentine’s Day, compared to previous years, consider these stats:

  • 18% of respondents decided that, this year, they will be gifting something to themselves.
  • 10% will be spending more money on their partner this year to compensate for the fact that they cannot go out and celebrate the holiday.

Tip for Marketers Take advantage of US shoppers’ interest in making investments in themselves. Frame your content and the products you feature around how the customer will feel, and how your offering can help them feel more comfortable — physically and even emotionally.

Shoppers Are Focused on Their Partners 

This Valentine’s Day, German shoppers will be focused on their partners. 

Like other regions, loungewear is equally popular overall in terms of clothing investment, with 31% of German respondents having invested in loungewear during the lockdown. But when it comes to gift-giving during Valentine’s Day, flowers (37% of respondents) and chocolates (30% of respondents) will be their preferred choice. 

Underwear is also another popular gift choice at 15% and, fortunately, gauging sizing for their partner when buying gifts should be no problem — especially if buying online. At least 43% of German respondents cited that they know their partner’s sizes, and 13% “looked in the drawer” to check their partner’s size — compared to the 7% who don’t know their partner’s sizes.

However, consider these stats about online purchases for German shoppers:

  • 29% of respondents are concerned about buying online because they fear products having “bad quality material.”
  • 25% are afraid that they will be hindered due to “poor sizing options.” 

Tip for Marketers Emphasize “gift-giving” in your marketing to connect with shoppers who are looking to buy for a partner. Highlighting new- or back-in-stock products will assuage concern about availability or poor sizing options. Consider drawing attention to any details that positively reinforce the high quality of your products. 

Getting Fancy and Tech-Savvy 

Expect style and technology to set the tone in France this year. 

When it comes to investments since the lockdown, the French have been very fashion-focused. According to respondents, top clothing items include “loungewear” at 19%, “shoes” at 19%, and “dressier items of clothing” at 17%. Only a 2% difference between loungewear and dressier clothing suggests that comfort is nearly as important as style for French customers. 31% of respondents also stated that they “need to make more of an effort when it comes to clothes.”

And although chocolates and flowers are always popular, when it comes to Valentine’s Day shopping in France, don’t forget about the latest and greatest technology. 22% of respondents will be buying “gadgets/technology” — either as a gift or for themselves — which is only slightly behind the more traditional “chocolates” (25%) and “flowers” (24%).

It’s worth mentioning that French customers will be looking for services and conveniences this year when shopping:

  • 44% mention that “free delivery” would drive them to make a repeat purchase from a brand.
  • 31% say that “free returns” would drive them to make a repeat purchase from a brand.

Tip for Marketers While chocolates and flowers are tried-and-true, remember that a large number of shoppers lean toward exciting gadgets and technology, as well as stylish clothing. Consider centering your marketing around giving customers “the best” in technology, and helping customers “look their best” in fashion-forward clothes.

Striking the Balance Between Comfort and Activity  

Australian shoppers are striking a balance between being comfortable and staying active. 

Since lockdowns began, Australian customers saw the value in comfortable clothes, with 18% of respondents investing in loungewear. However, it appears that of equal importance was getting out and about, with 18% of respondents invested in activewear. Similarly, “comfortable underwear” and “shoes” have been nearly equally important, at 13% and 12% respectively.

The eagerness to stay active should help Australian customers stay fit, considering that candy will be plentiful this Valentine’s Day. 36% of respondents mention that they will be purchasing “chocolates” this year, making it the most popular gift option by far. 

Australian shoppers will also be mindful of getting the best deal, however, as suggested by these stats:

  • 31% of respondents “prefer buying gifts online because [they] get access to more deals.”
  • 61% of respondents expect that, should they join a loyalty program, they would receive discounts.

Tip for Marketers Many customers will be scouring the Internet for the best deals. Find ways to connect with new shoppers by offering deals and discounts. Then convert first-time buyers with offers and experiences that will provide them value. 

Final Thoughts

Last year’s Black Friday proved how important the digital experience was for customers, and how vital digital-first marketing would be for brands. Expect that to continue to ring true for 2021.

This year’s Valentine’s Day will be equally telling in regard to what customers expect, and what brands must do to provide highly satisfying experiences. Not only does this recent research provide insight into what, specifically, customers will be buying, but it also — perhaps more critically — tells us what motivates those purchase decisions. What we learn from Valentine’s Day 2021 may give us a clue as to what we can anticipate for the rest of the year.

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