Merchants Felt the Love This Valentine’s Day

Consumers didn’t let continuing concerns about the economy nor the bills left over from Christmas stop them from buying Valentine’s Day gifts, judging by the companies contacted by MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT.

Chandler, AZ-based Fairytale Brownies, for instance, reported a 10% year-over-year increase in Valentine’s Day sales, despite a 9% decrease in circulation, says marketing assistant Alyssa Andrews. Sales for the first two weeks of February exceeded $241,000, with more than $105,000 generated online. Whereas last year the baked-goods merchant had two holiday mailings, this year it mailed only once. But it put a greater emphasis on pay-per-click advertising. “Every time someone is searching for brownies or gourmet gifts, they will see Fairytale Brownies,” Andrews says.

Andrews says that Feb. 8–the final day for guaranteed unexpedited Valentine’s Day deliveries–was the company’s biggest shipment date during the Valentine’s Day season, with shipments up about 30% from Feb. 8, 2005. After Feb. 8, the company offered a two-day shipping upgrade whereby customers paid the normal shipping price and Fairytale Brownies paid the additional upgrade shipping fees to guarantee two-day delivery. “That offer had a great response,” says co-owner Eileen Spitalny.

St. Louis-based candy merchant Bissinger’s posted a 20% increase in Valentine’s Day sales, exceeding expectations. One reason, says spokesperson Kelly McMahon: a mention in “The Comfort Zone” section of “O, the Oprah Magazine.”

Incentives no doubt helped too. Customers were offered a free pound of chocolate if purchases were made by a certain date and free shipping to additional addresses.

The company’s best-selling item, says McMahon, was a box of seven handcrafted chocolates with antioxidants and other heart-healthy ingredients, one for each day of the week, “to fit within a healthy lifestyle.”

Chocolates were also a big seller at New York-based Chelsea Market Baskets. “We sell Leonidas chocolates, and that seemed to be a big sell again this year,” says spokesperson Heather Barclay. The food gifts merchant hasn’t released its Valentine’s Day numbers yet, but Barclay says in all its channels—Web, catalog/phone, and retail—have grown since the first of the year.

Another New York-based food gifts merchant, Manhattan Fruitier, saw a sales increase of about 14%, despite cutting catalog circulation 16%. “We had that kind of [revenue growth] even though we lopped off 13,000 names,” says owner Jehv Gold. “I’m pleased with those numbers, and we may use the same strategy for Mother’s Day.” The names omitted from the mailing were past gift recipients, whom the company used to mail to in hopes of turning them into buyers.

Red roses, handmade chocolates, and fresh fruit were among Manhattan Fruitier’s top-selling items. The Sweet Heart, a 32-piece combination of fresh fruit and chocolates, was the most popular item.

To win the hearts of seafood lovers, Chicago-based LobsterGram created a $105 gift package called Lotsa Lobsta, consisting of lobster tails, lobster bisque, lobster ravioli, and a chocolate heart-shape cake. It also once again offered its Cupid’s Combo dinner for two, which had been a big seller last year. All told, this year’s Valentine’s Day sales were up 32% over last year’s, says “senior lobster consultant” Dan Zawacki. Plan had called for a 20% increase. “We had an awesome holiday,” Zawacki says. In fact, the three days leading up to Valentine’s Day were record sales days.

Lobster Gram advertised through national radio and television spots as well as two e-mail blasts to customers during the final week leading up to the holiday.

Food merchants weren’t the only loving the Valentine’s Day sales lift. At Madison, WI-based Guild.com, which sells artworks and artisan décor and jewelry, year-over-year sales rose 45% on a circulation increase of about 300%. While that “didn’t exceed expectations,” says president Michael Baum, “we feel we had a good season in line with our growth expectations.”

“We included a multicategory Valentine’s Gift Guide on our Website for the first time this year,” says spokesperson Julie Kolka. “Our catalog circulation also increased during the same time period, and the catalog did include a Valentine’s spread. We also featured ‘Nontraditional Heart Forms’ in our online newsletter.” This was a selection of items that incorporate hearts in unusual ways. Two of the items featured–the Forbidden Fruit earrings and Heart Bowls–wound up being among the top sellers.

The Guild conducted a special e-mail promotion of the Valentine’s Gift Guide on Jan. 15, featuring 15% off items for one week. “The dollars per 1,000 generated by this e-mail was twice our average dollars per 1,000,” Kolka says.

While Allenhurst, NJ-based jeweler Heavenly Treasures didn’t have its final figures figures tallied yet, vice president Michael Ades says sales were strong compared with last year. And that’s especially welcome news, as “for us, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are the closest you’re going to get to Christmas,” Ades says.

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