Ahh, Valentine’s Day. The day when men feel pressured to do something nice for that special someone in their life, and somehow a box of tempting chocolates always figures into the mix. However in recent years, the holiday has seen a steady increase in apparel gifting, perhaps as sweethearts realize some women appreciate a no-calorie option.

"It’s encouraging to see consumers show interest in spending on gifts and Valentine’s Day-related merchandise – a good sign for consumer sentiment as we head into 2015."

-Matthew Shay,
National Retail Federation

This year, expressions of love are expected to lead to $18.9 billion in holiday spending, according to the National Retail Federation’s Valentine’s Day Consumer Spending Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics. Of that amount, consumers plan to spend $2 billion on apparel and $1.5 billion on gift cards. Apparel will be purchased by 16% of shoppers, up from 11% of shoppers in 2001, 14% in 2010 and 15% last year.

At ShiShi Boutique on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, manager Cathy Santo Marco says Valentine’s Day is a boon for business.

“We definitely get men and women looking for Valentine’s items,” she relates. “We get girls coming in looking for outfits to wear that night. We also get the husbands or boyfriends coming in looking for gifts. Since this is a neighborhood store, we know most of our women customers. So if we recognize the man when he walks in looking for a gift, we can help him out and say, ‘I know she likes this sweater or top.'”

The mid-February holiday should provide a healthy shot in the arm to retailers this year, as the consumer outlook has improved. Overall, 50% of consumers are “very or somewhat optimistic” about their own personal financial situation, up from 46% in 2011, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey. That figure increases to 53% among men, and 60% among those making $75,000+ per year.

The NRF’s Matthew Shay, president and CEO, says the expected spending increase is meaningful. “It’s encouraging to see consumers show interest in spending on gifts and Valentine’s Day-related merchandise – a good sign for consumer sentiment as we head into 2015.”

The NRF study found 9 of 10 consumers intend to treat their significant other/spouse to something special for the holiday, with plans to spend an average of $88 on them, a notable increase from $78 last year. Consumers will also spend about $45 on other family members (children, parents, etc.), as well as $32 on friends, $38 on co-workers, and $28 on classmates/teachers.

Besides apparel, consumers plan to buy candy (53%), flowers (37%), and jewelry (21%). Additionally, 35% are planning an evening out, be it at the movies or a restaurant, providing apparel retailers with another opportunity as celebrants will want to look their best.

Prosper’s principal analyst Pam Goodfellow agrees the expected Valentine’s Day spending bodes well for the economic outlook, even if consumers are careful in their purchasing.

“It’s great to see consumers coming out of their shell this year, looking to spend discretionary budgets on those they love once again, although I fully expect many to continue to look for ways to cut costs where they can,” she says. “While many will splurge, some will still look for simple and affordable ways to show their appreciation for friends and family, and celebrate in a way they are most comfortable with.”

A substantial 82% of men and 79% of women say cotton and cotton blends are their favorite fabric to wear, according to the Monitor™ survey. That’s because nearly 8 in 10 (79%) consumers think better quality garments are made from all natural fibers like cotton. Also, 54% of shoppers say they’re willing to pay more for natural fibers such as cotton.

 

In stores like Nordstrom, holiday gifts for men include Robert Graham’s sport shirts. The embroidered details, contrasting collar and flip cuffs, and tonal patterns landed the shirts on the retailer’s Valentine’s Gifts link online.

“Our shirts are really unique on their own, so once buyers see something that catches their eye, they’ll say, ‘This is the perfect shirt to put in the store in February for Valentine’s Day. It’s a great date night shirt…Has a romantic feeling to it,'” says Jordan Kase, senior account executive, Robert Graham. “We’ll definitely cross merchandise our denim with it. All of our shirts really go well with this time of the year, so people pick out great gifting and holiday items.”

Retailers should keep in mind that besides getting inspiration from what they already own and like (57%), consumers get apparel ideas from store displays (39%) and the internet (32%), according to the Monitor™ survey data. Stores still have time to ready their displays, as research from The NPD Group shows 78% of those who celebrate Valentine’s Day shop a week or less before the holiday, and 42% of men make their final purchase on February 13 or 14.

At ShiShi, Santo Marco says women are also looking to self-gift, as it were, in their quest for the perfect Valentine’s date look.

“Some women are looking for sexy tops and jeans if it’s casual, others want date night or first date dresses,” she states. “They might be going away for the whole weekend so they come in looking for a few outfits. Basically, any Valentine’s scenario where they need something new will bring them in.”