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Get ready for Valentine’s Day

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NEW YORK — If, as someone once said, “timing is everything,” the timing of Valentine’s Day this year does not favor chain drug retailers.

“If consumer spending patterns from last year’s holiday are any indication, Valentine’s Day on a weekend does not bode well for categories like candy, greeting cards and flowers, which typically benefit from last-minute shopping,” a spokeswoman for American Greetings Corp. says.

With February 14 falling on a Sunday this year, the negative impact of the day being on a weekend is magnified by the fact that it is also a week after the Super Bowl.

“Among all holidays, Valentine’s Day has the greatest compression of sales within the three days prior to the day,” American Greetings group vice president and national sales officer Bill DeWitt says, noting that 60% of Valentine’s Day sales come on February 12, 13 and 14.

And because two of those days fall on the weekend this year, retail sales are expected to drop off significantly.

Suppliers and retailers say that consumers just don’t seem to have the same enthusiasm for shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts when the holiday falls on a weekend as they have when it comes midweek.

“Normally, if Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend, our sales tend to dip a bit,” says Bob Meyer, manager of general merchandise and marketing at Lewis Drugs in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“A lot of the money that would normally be spent during the weekday shopping goes to dinners out or a night on the town rather than to products that we sell like flowers and a box of candy, which they would buy on a weeknight.”

American Greetings’ DeWitt says that eliminating the lack of enthusiasm for weekend Valentine’s Day shopping is simply a matter of changing consumer behavior — male consumer behavior. Men are more likely to stop at a drug store or other retail outlet on the way home from work during the week but are more reluctant to make a special trip on a weekend, he explains.

In fact, DeWitt says, research shows that when Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, sales plunge by as much as six percentage points.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers in the United States spent about $14.7 billion on Valentine’s Day last year, when the holiday fell on a Saturday. That was a significant drop from the $17 billion they doled out for gifts for their loved ones in 2008, when Valentine’s Day fell on a Thursday.

Meanwhile, recent research by SAFNow.org found that Valentine’s week sales at retail florists sank nearly 8% — or about $2,000 per shop — when Valentine’s Day fell on a weekend.

And with the Super Bowl coming a week earlier, the competition for men’s already limited attention to shopping is diminished even more.

Retailers also note that other factors may have an impact on sales this year. Besides the shifting of the calendar, they see that the nation’s economic woes and continued high level of unemployment are also dampening sales.

But some suppliers who rely on Valentine’s Day for a portion of their sales every year say they do not expect America’s economic pains to be a factor this year.

“Valentine’s Day is a very important season for us,” notes a spokeswoman for Hershey Co. “Chocolate is one of the few luxuries remaining that people can afford.”

Suppliers are urging retailers to prepare for Valentine’s Day early and use every promotional and merchandising vehicle at their disposal to drive sales prior to the three days before the holiday.

“They all get it,” American Greetings’ DeWitt says. “The really good ones are making sure they are including Valentine’s Day items in their circulars and are timing these inclusions to give shoppers plenty of time to respond.”


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