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What Valentine’s Day Looked Like This Year

The past year has been a whirlwind for retail, but with the dissemination of multiple Covid-19 vaccines continuing at a rapid clip, normalcy could soon be on the horizon. And after two tumultuous seasons, brands are banking on a return to the status quo—especially heading into one of the most historically lucrative commercial holidays of the year.

The pandemic has caused massive disruptions to consumers’ day-to-day lives and spending patterns, but there’s still a place in their hearts for Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights. More than half (52 percent) of U.S. adults they surveyed plan to celebrate the holiday this year, and they’ll spend $21.8 billion in the process.

Consumers are “committed to celebrating friends and loved ones, even if that means having to alter those traditional holiday celebrations,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of shoppers who plan to observe the romantic holiday believe it’s important to do so in spite of the pandemic’s challenges, though a near-equal number believe their plans will be directly impacted by the coronavirus.

Date night—at home

New York City has resumed indoor dining in time for the holiday, and in Los Angeles, restaurants already started outdoor service again, putting date night back on the table. But according to Planalytics data, consumers across the country—from the Plains to the East Coast—will experience temperatures “far below normal” this weekend. Snow is likely throughout many regions, it said, and it could dampen the appeal of dressing up and venturing out.

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Whether their inhibitions are weather-related or caused by Covid, just under one-quarter (24 percent) of consumers plan to treat their special someone to an evening on the town—the lowest in the NRF-Prosper Analytics survey’s history. Two-fifths of respondents said they will plan a special dinner or celebration at home instead.

“Traditionally, Valentine’s Day fuels the apparel economy,” Monika Kochhar, CEO of online gift-giving software platform SmartGift, told Sourcing Journal. A date night spurs the need for a dress and accessories, she said. “And when Valentine’s Day is part of a long weekend,” she added, couples might spring for a short getaway that requires “multiple outfits for several occasions,” from travel wear to swimsuits and ski pants.

“This year, with indoor dining at reduced capacity and most places still experiencing lockdown, we expect that much of that spend to migrate from dining, travel or entertainment toward other verticals,” she said, like jewelry, flowers, fine wine, chocolates and “make-it-together” dinners.

While plans may be a bit tamer this year, fashion rental service Rent the Runway has seen a marked increase in interest in its Valentine’s Day-ready staples in the past week. The company told Sourcing Journal that demand for “night out” inventory like dresses, festive tops and accessories saw a 25 percent bump, and both four-day and eight-day rentals jumped 20 percent after an email promotion went out to subscribers on Jan. 25. Customers can create wish lists for specific events and holidays in their lives, and Valentine’s Day is currently the No. 5 most tagged occasion, a spokesperson said.

But while shoppers are keen to conjure up ways to celebrate, the limitations on physical plans means they’re ultimately likely to spend less on Valentine’s Day gifts this year. Those who plan to make purchases said they will spend an average of $164.76 on tokens of affection, down $32 from 2020’s record of $196.31. This decrease is significant from the year-ago holiday—which took place just weeks before the coronavirus began to spread throughout the country—but Prosper Insights’ vice president of strategy, Phil Rist, assured that shopper spending will be nothing to scoff at. “This year’s total and average spending figures are near record highs, as the second highest in the survey’s history,” he said.

The web still rules

Unsurprisingly, the web will be the most popular shopping destination for Valentine’s Day fodder this year, NRF and Prosper’s data revealed, in keeping with trends toward e-commerce that have accelerated over the past 11 months. Nearly two-fifths of shoppers plan to browse and buy online, while department stores take the No. 2 spot with 29 percent of the vote, and discount stores are a close No. 3 at 28 percent. For the first time, consumers voted small, local businesses into the ranking for Valentine’s gifts—likely due to a renewed dedication to helping these embattled shops and boutiques weather the Covid storm. They tied with specialty stores for the No. 4 spot at 17 percent.

While a new dress or suit may not be in order, candy, cards and flowers aren’t the only items that shoppers plan to shell out on, based on data from Trendalytics collected from November through January. Sarah Barnes, content marketing manager, told Sourcing Journal that searches for lingerie and candles have been on the rise over the past three months, along with gift sets for both men and women containing a curated selection of skincare, fragrance and other products.

Inclusive lingerie wins shoppers’ hearts

Lingerie sets have seen a meteoric rise compared to the same period a year prior, demonstrating 78 percent growth and an average of 26,000 average searches per week, Barnes said. With dinner reservations on the back burner this year, female shoppers are focusing on heating things up at home.

Intimates brands that promote diversity—from Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty to American Eagle’s Aerie and luxury labels La Perla and Agent Provocateur—have gained traction, as posts featuring inclusive lingerie brands have seen a 47 percent increase in engagement since the January to February period last year. said Traackr, an influencer marketing platform.

In fact, interest in diverse, body-positive intimates has skyrocketed since the same period in 2020, with mentions on social media increasing by 71 percent. These brands have quickly eclipsed longstanding lingerie stalwart Victoria’s Secret, which continues to promote an increasingly outdated standard of feminine beauty through both its marketing and product offerings. The company has seen a 41 percent decrease in engagement from the month preceding Valentine’s Day last year.

Women also heavily prioritized comfort in 2020, and wire-free bralette styles were on the rise before the Covid crisis hit the American market in full force last year. Retail market intelligence platform Edited predicted in early February 2020 that these styles would continue to outpace push-up bras, which have been falling in favor since 2018. “While lingerie is often linked with flirty and seductive silhouettes, there’s a greater need to reflect the wider industry demands for function and comfort,” analyst Kayla Marci wrote at the time. “In the last few years, the increase in active lifestyles [has] pushed consumers and retailers alike to move away from the bust-emphasizing bra styles popularized in the ‘90s.”

Edited’s prescient projections were underscored by the work-from-home environment many consumers enjoyed throughout the pandemic, which allowed female shoppers to forgo sexy styles in favor of simple support. But a year later, lingerie brands are banking on Covid fatigue and the promise of a bit of excitement to bring women back into the lingerie fold.

British retailer Marks & Spencer reported that “whilst comfort is king, throughout the pandemic customers have still been buying into sexy and special lingerie.” In fact, the dedicated “sexy lingerie” page on the company’s e-commerce site has seen over 200,000 hits since the beginning of January, it said—more than double the period in 2020. Last week alone, the brand sold 1,500 units of a new pink eyelash lace bra from its boutique range, and a specialty line of silk and lace intimates designed with model Rosie Huntington Whitely saw an 85 percent increase in sales throughout the past month.

London-based luxury lingerie brand Agent Provocateur launched its Valentine’s Day capsule collection in mid-January, featuring intricately designed bra and panty sets that completely eschew practicality. Creative director Sarah Shotton said in a statement that self-gifting should be an accepted practice for women this Valentine’s Day as retail therapy continues to play an important part of many shoppers’ pandemic coping strategies. “It’s important to gift and reward yourself regularly,” she said, adding that “it’s OK spoil yourself without the need to justify indulgences.”

Meanwhile, plus-size e-tailer Dia&Co has timed the launch of its lingerie category to the holiday. On Wednesday, the site debuted limited-edition, curated capsules from popular intimates labels like Hanky Panky, Elomi, Elila and Rya Collection. The collections feature bralettes, panties, chemises and robes in the traditional Valentine’s Day palette of pink and red, and showcase feminine details like lace, embroidery and paneling.

“This year, more than ever, we’re craving special moments we can savor,” Dia&Co. CEO, Nadia Boujarwah said in a statement. “We see Valentine’s Day as a celebration not just of love, but of self-love, and feeling special in the clothes closest to your body is an expression of that for us.”

Galentine’s Day gains traction

While the majority (56 percent) of consumers plan on spending money on their partner or spouse this year, more than one-quarter of shoppers said they’ll spend on their children, family members, friends, and themselves this year, Kearney data says.

“Valentine’s Day was traditionally a couple’s holiday, but Americans love of fanfare added school parties to the mix many years ago,” Katie Thomas, lead at the global strategy and management consulting firm’s internal consumer think tank, told Sourcing Journal. “This year in particular, Valentine’s Day represents a show of love and inclusion, with holidays bringing a sense of normalcy and celebration.” The holiday will give consumers “something to rally behind,” and allow for an opportunity to gift “simple indulgences to those who mean the most,” she added.

“More recently, as people have coupled off later in life, we’ve seen the advent of Galentine’s Day,” Thomas continued, referencing the alt-Valentine’s celebration for gal pals that falls on Feb. 13. Analysts at Edited predicted that the makeshift holiday is becoming a bigger focus given that many friendships have felt the strain of distance this past year.

Earlier this month, Amazon Fashion’s The Drop, which features limited-edition collections from online influencers, curated a Valentine’s-ready collection suitable for staying in or stepping out. Exhorting shoppers to “treat yourself with the latest easy-to-love looks,” The Drop tapped a range of influencers and their partners to showcase looks for a night on the town, casual evening out or relaxing at home, from classic black dresses, slinky minimal heels and red-and-pink mules to simple cardigans, lounge sets and wardrobe-staple jeans.

Brands seem to be catching on to the trend of friendly gifting. Adidas launched a collection containing some of its classic footwear silhouettes, including the Ultraboost 4.0 DNA and the Sambarose sneaker, with luxury crystal brand Swarovski, just in time for the holiday. The men’s and women’s styles are sprinkled with Swarovski sparkle but are far from dripping with Valentine’s Day flair, making them ideal gifts for platonic pals.

Competitor Puma launched the Cali Galentine’s sneaker this month, which features an all-white, lace-up silhouette with hearts on the laces and “GRL PWR” embroidered on the heels, sending a clear message to female shoppers that it’s OK to be single, as long as you’ve got friends who know your shoe size. The capsule collection is rounded out by a backpack featuring a “Love” graphic.

Soozie Jenkinson, head of design for Marks & Spencer said that “lounge and sleepwear” remain critical categories during the Valentine’s Day gifting season, as many shoppers are still spending more time at home than usual. Soft jersey fabrics, brushed marls and stripes have proven popular, she said, and “designed into relaxed joggers and sweatshirt-inspired shapes, these pieces make great lockdown Valentine’s Day gifts.”