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Last-minute is key on internet-enabled Valentine’s Day

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These days, it seems, Valentine’s Day is becoming synonymous with last-minute shopping. Gift buyers feel the date is over-commercialised, and it seems that many wait until it’s almost too late in order to make their displays of affection. Retailers who target those last-minute deciders over digital this Valentine’s will stand a good chance of making some money.

A study from marketing technology specialists RadiumOne this week finds that only around 14% of UK adults are enthusiastic about the day (24% feel it’s over commercialised), and that 71% will wait until February to buy a gift or card, while 35% will leave it to the week before. The company’s analysis of 250,000 Valentine’s Day content, from last year, suggested that activity rose dramatically from February 11 to the day itself. Some 73% of this content takes place in ‘dark social’ areas, such as email, instant messenger and on forums.

RadiumOne also predicts that this year, 49% of people will use a digital device for researching and buying gifts, with 27% browsing via a smartphone or tablet, and 19% buying via them. The proportion of people researching or buying via a mobile device rises to 64% among the 18 to 34 age group.

“There are three easy wins for retailers to address consumers’ waning interest in Valentine’s,” said Rupert Staines, European managing director of RadiumOne. “Understand the role of different devices in planning and purchasing, be aware you have right up until the day itself to make your moves and ensure you have visibility into dark social, as you could be missing 75% of leads available to you. It’s about getting the right plumbing in place to track who’s doing and sharing what across which devices.”

Barclaycard concurs that last-minute shoppers will be key this year. It released figures this week that showed spending on flowers on February 14, 2015, rose by 280%, with confectionary sales up by 68% – and 38% said they would be swayed by discounting when buying for their loved one. All of this, it says, will favour the in-store retailer – but it also says that online retailers can still react through targeted incentives and promotions.

“February 14 is a lucrative peak in the year for consumer spending, and with last-minute shoppers more likely to pick up presents in-store over the weekend, it is especially important ecommerce retailers focus on driving sales online now,” said Philip McHugh, chief executive of Barclaycard Business Solutions. “Merchants who are successful in providing a seamless shopping experience in the run-up to key commercial dates such as Valentine’s Day are far more likely to drive repeat custom throughout the rest of the year.”

Meanwhile, Elliot Howard, UK & Ireland managing director of NetApp cites Google research from 2015 that showed a year-on-year increase for ‘last minute valentine’s gift’ searches. “The apparent increasing reliance on the internet to save the day shows there is a massive opportunity for retailers to make Valentine’s Day a far less stressful time of year for their clients. All that is required is an approach that is customer curious rather than impersonal, and a more sophisticated use of data to inform marketing, promotion and sales strategies.

“Most leading online retailers nowadays will target promotions, discounts and offers at customers. This is increasingly happening on mobiles, taking factors such as location and buying habits into account. However, recommending that I buy something based on a previous purchase is not customer curious – it’s a fumble in the dark rather than a helping hand.

“Customer curiosity is about asking questions of your customers so that you can develop a persona for them that is contextually aware, and using that data to provide a superior service. For example, a florist sending me a text message when I’m at work saying that there is 25% off flowers until 10th February is not customer curious. If, however, I receive a text message when I’m walking through the area during the week preceding Valentine’s Day that says ‘10% of off geraniums if you buy in-store’, because their data records show that I bought geraniums last Valentine’s Day and on my wife’s birthday because they are her favourite flowers, that is an experience that I will remain loyal to. It’s contextually aware and tailored to me.”

Finally, a study from Vista Retail Support suggests that retailers that combine online and in-store also stand to win out. Its study found that 68% of shoppers looking for Valentine’s day gifts would go to a store if they received an offer on their smartphones. The organisation says getting it right is about giving help to find the right gift in the most pain-free, personalised way possible. Some 46% said they were looking for stores where they wouldn’t have to queue, and they could rely on a quick and easy experience. More than half (51%) say they go to stores looking for inspiration, while 38% say they would spend more than they intended if they got the right smartphone offer.

“Retailers need to make sure they have everything in place to capitalise on the opportunity and get their full share of this cake, giving consumers every reason to come into their stores,” said James Pepper, technical services director at Vista Retail Support. “Once they are there, retailers must ensure customers have a satisfying experience, which includes having promotions and displays that strike the correct note.

“Consumers soon fall out of love with stores that get it wrong and retailers need to seize the opportunity to keep existing customers loyal and secure the interest of new consumers. The retailers that run poorly organised stores, lack the use of time-saving in-store technology and fail to attract a younger generation of consumers who expect to use technology in their shopping interactions, will ultimately be set to lose out.”

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