The first commercial Valentine cards in the United States were printed in the mid-1800s – and I suspect that in the long history of the holiday this will go down as being a particularly challenging one for retailers.  When we packed away what was left of the Valentine’s Day inventory on February 15, 2020 we had no clue that a year later our shops would be open only limited hours to a limited number of masked customers at a time.

The National Retail Federation had predicted that in 2020 consumers in the US would spend $27.4 billion on gifts (mostly flowers, candy and jewelry), Valentine cards and dining experiences. I haven’t seen their predictions for this year, but we know it will be a sad one for the many restaurants that count on the income from couples enjoying a romantic dinner to help them get through February.

None of us knew when Valentine’s Day 2020 ended that even a handshake would soon be considered dangerous, and that many people would come to suffer through months of isolation from those they love. So we’ve decided that for our store, Valentine’s Day 2021 will focus on the idea of sending a hug to friends and family.  

Although over half of the almost $200 spent per person on Valentine’s Day gifts last year went to significant others and spouses, the rest was spent on other family members, friends, co-workers and even pets.  We’ve been ordering cards that are appropriate for these other categories, as well as gifts that will work for our “send a hug” theme by not being romantic. 

Instead our focus is on the emotions that a hug represents: caring, hygge, affection.   There are lots of ideas in our toy section that will help a grandma (like me) send love to the grandchildren she can’t be with.  Our bath and body area has products that will work for a gift for a distant friend in need of pampering.  We’ll put together boxes of sweet treats perfect as a virtual hug for a neighbor or colleague who loves chocolate. 

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been encouraging our customers to order for our website and do curbside pickup. This week we’ll set up a new section on our site for Valentine’s Day and Easter with samples of some of our Valentine’s Day cards for those who can’t come in to pick theirs out in person.  We’ll have lots of gift ideas based on our “send a hug” theme, including a “Sending a Virtual Hug” card from Design with Heart for free with some of them.  

The challenge for us is that we don’t offer shipping on most of our products, because we’re not set up to do this efficiently.  But we’ve learned a lot of new skills during the pandemic, so maybe we will figure out a way to expand this service so that we can help our customers reach out and send a hug this Valentine’s Day.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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