What shoppers fell in love with – Valentine’s Day 2021

Valentine’s spending in 2021 is expected to exceed $25 billion in retail revenue so there is lots of expression and affection to be had. Shoppers seek efficiency at every turn and retailers who provide transparency in everything from inventory to information regarding their shipments are doing them a service.

Love comes in many shapes and sizes. As we head towards Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be instructive to see what shoppers have fallen in love with in 2020. Valentine’s spending in 2021 is expected to exceed $25 billion in retail revenue so there is lots of expression and affection to be had.(1)

Adobe reported that U.S. online spend during November and December reached a record $188.2 billion, up 32.2% over the year-ago period.(2) As the pandemic limited in-store shopping, avid online shoppers accelerated their spending. Additionally, there were many first-time shoppers who flirted with online shopping. It will be interesting to see how many adopt this new channel over time given its convenience and time-savings or whether they revert to stores when the new normal returns.

Three components of online shopping caught the attention of shoppers.


Efficiency means different things to different people. Throughout the pandemic, shoppers were frequently pressed for time, with routines in disarray and familiar patterns no longer in play. Changing circumstances likely saw shoppers begin to favor their mobile devices even more and the numbers below reinforce this trend. Store visits were risky and, when one was in fact willing to take the chance, the lines to enter were often long and the goods on the shelves may have been in limited supply. Shoppers took convenience to new levels and this behavior certainly fueled both BOPIS and curbside pickup. Armed with mobile devices, shoppers were poised to find exactly what they needed and more importantly where it would be available.

Industry research revealed:

  • 64% of smartphone shoppers turned to mobile search for ideas about what to buy before heading to the store. (3)

Smartphones accounted for 40% of the holiday season’s e-commerce growth.(4) No one will forget the rush on everything from toilet paper to disinfecting wipes. Shoppers wanted to have the inside track on where products might be available before they ventured out. This need for a more confident shopping visit also meant retailers were forced to provide greater transparency about the stock status of the products they were selling. An example of such transparency can be seen at Michaels Stores, which sell crafting supplies. There are multiple store options in my neighborhood with varying inventory positions. One had in-store shopping and same-day delivery while another was out of stock on the item I was interested in, leaving the choice to the customer regarding which store to visit.

These frantic times also led to looking for other resources where products might be available, and this meant marketplaces mattered more than ever. Research on behavior shifts seen in 2020 from Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights revealed that 27% of online shoppers buy more from online marketplaces.(5) While many marketplaces may be ripe for purchasing commodity products, I have come to love the merchandise on display via Etsy—which also supports my desire to purchase from smaller sellers. This Valentine’s Day may be like most years with a foot of snow on the ground in Chicago, so I was on the online hunt. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the mittens at Kose Knits (one for me and one for my daughter) as well as a spa kit for relaxing in these turbulent times from Gift Box Love.


As purchases reached record levels, consumers may also be returning merchandise in record numbers. Salesforce expects $330 billion in global online purchases to be returned following the 2020 holiday season, representing about 30% of total purchases.(6) Love was in the air when retailers showered shoppers with additional affection by extending their return options. According to the e-tailing group 2020 Gifting Index (sponsored by GiftNow), 26% of retailers extended their normal return schedule with half of those accepting returns through 1/31/21.

Choice was also in order as shoppers were able to return products not only at the stores where they were purchased but also within other local retail partners as can be seen in the partnership between Amazon and Kohl’s.

Showing shoppers a little love also speaks to some retailers, including Target and Walmart, who have what they call a “keep it” option. This designation is for products they do not intend to resell, believing it would be more cost effective to let the customer keep and nobly encouraging them to donate the products.


Showing shoppers love means not only taking care of them today but appreciating them in the months and years to come. That could be readily accomplished via loyalty programs. Just think about Amazon, whose Prime membership numbers are at 126 million.(7) According to research platform Pipslay, eleven percent of Americans subscribed to the new Walmart+ service within the first two weeks as they made their loyalty run.(8)

Beyond these behemoths, it may be the smaller retailers who stand to gain in 2021. Uncommon Goods is just such a retailer. They court shoppers with their unique merchandising and shoppers who sign up for the Uncommon Perks (free trial and then $35/year) are rewarded with free shipping.

Retailers share the love.

Shoppers seek efficiency at every turn and retailers who provide transparency in everything from inventory to information regarding their shipments are doing them a service. Returns are another opportunity to deliver customer-centric policies that include convenient store-based options along with extended time frames that address the harried lifestyles of shoppers. Lastly, think loyalty and explore ways that every retailer can best retain shoppers in the coming year.  

Lauren Freedman is president of the e-tailing group

[1] The American Floral Endowment – Preparing for Valentine’s Day Week 2021
[2] Adobe: Online holiday spending broke several records
[3] Google/Euromonitor International, U.S., Micro-moments survey, smartphone shoppers=1,000, July 2016
[4]Adobe Analytics 2020 Holiday Recap Report
[5] Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights 2020 post-holiday survey
[6] SalesForce Holiday 2020 Retail Insights Report
[7] Digital Commerce 360 Amazon Prime has 126 million members in the US
[8 ]GroceryDive – 11% of US shoppers have signed up for Walmart+ subscription, study estimates

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