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EDITORIAL Valentine’s Day will show retail what 2021 is going to be like

Image: Fotolia

Image: Fotolia

Valentine’s Day used to be a much-needed post-Christmas sales boost for retailers: a love peak if you will. This year the significance of Valentine’s Day is perhaps even more pronounced as it could well unleash some of that pent up spending that repeated lockdowns and general uncertainty have so far kept a lid on. But only for those that have their ecommerce in order.

According to research this week by Barclaycard Payments, UK consumers are set to spend around £787m around Valentine’s Day this year, while 41% of UK retailers expect a sales boost this week. As a result, almost two thirds (63%) of them say they have enhanced their ecommerce capabilities, with three in 10 (31%) boosting their online advertising.

A further 27% expanding their product or service offerings. One in four is increasing online stock availability. 

Many retailers are hoping that, with online ready to handle a mini-peak, the orders will flood in and kick-start the long climb back towards something approaching normality in the months ahead.

However, there is a caveat. The retailers that will see a boost are certainly going to be the ones that have made their online business work and are ready to fulfil – that has been a given for at least the past six months, probably longer. No, the real challenge lies in trying to also offer shoppers what they want.

A separate study by Contentsquare, two thirds of UK shoppers aren’t planning to mark or celebrate Valentine’s Day this year – their ardour crushed by the pandemic and the fact that doing it at home just isn’t as much fun.

The clever retailers are looking at how to offer virtual Valentine’s gifts and experiences – not least for the 62% of couples that live apart and who can’t see each other currently.

Retailers also need to look closely at offering the kinds of products that chime with the limited options that consumers have for actually celebrating. With 8% of them looking at ‘going for a walk’ as the highlight of their romantic weekend, they are going to have to think outside of the box to come up with some products that can actually fit with what people are doing.

While this is confined to the Valentine’s weekend that lies ahead of us, it is a salutary lesson to how retail needs to adapt in the months and even years ahead. Post-COVID – if such a time exists – is not going to be like things were before. There will be lockdowns. There will be social distancing. There will be times when certain events and things can’t happen. There is also going to be a very slow process of people feeling confident to return to all the things they used to do, even with vaccines and masks.

For starters, being ecommerce enabled is a given, but also being prepared for new peaks – such as perhaps greater onus on Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day or other lesser ‘peaks’ of old – is also going to be important. This changes how retailers plan for the year ahead, what they stock and how they market it.

The lessons that can be learned this Valentine’s Day are perhaps some of the most important that the industry can learn in 2021 as it will certainly be an indicator of the shopping year ahead, as well as what retail may look like for some time to come.

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