From flipping pancakes to stuffing our faces with Easter eggs, it would seem that we are still sweet on special occasions throughout the year, even if some of us have forgotten their true meaning. However, there’s one event that always divides opinion: Valentine’s Day.
Although flowers, teddy bears and badly-penned sonnets may spring to mind, it would seem that the occasion is undergoing a revolution of late. In February 2017 doe-eyed Brits were forking out over £130 to impress on the first date  – from new garb to the latest restaurants on the block. But, new chinos aside, how exactly are people planning to part with their hard-earned cash this year? We explore the latest trends in romantic spend, and how the tech and experience economy are capturing the hearts and minds of consumers.
More people want experiences not gifts
While there will always be room for tradition (cue mariachi band), it would also seem that Valentine’s fans are fast replacing material goods with memories. Enter the ‘experience economy’, which not only promises an unforgettable first date, but has so far proven “a natural and welcome antidote to the January blues”. From theme parks to mermaid training, the trend of ‘kidulting’ has also fuelled this new engine of the economy, with consumer spend driven by feelings of nostalgia and the desire to re-create the pastimes they enjoyed as children.
With escapism in mind, it’s no surprise that in a 2016 UK survey, 29% of people would have preferred to receive a gift relating to travel or leisure for Valentine’s Day. An American study last year found that 40% of consumers wished for an ‘experience gift’, such as tickets to a concert, an outdoor activity or an evening out. This was particularly popular with millennials, with 45% of those aged 18-24 and 40% of people aged 25-34 saying they planned to surprise their other halves this way.
From the experience economy to the innovations that help us get there, advances in technology are helping change the way we shop – with a direct impact on wish lists this Valentine’s Day. If you find your Valentine is too far away to share a warm embrace, the innovative HEY bracelet could provide the perfect back-up. An accessory designed with couples in mind, the Kickstarter-backed device allows partners to send an affectionate squeeze from afar – the very first wearable to mimic human touch across the miles. Replacing ‘old fashioned’ text and video messaging, HEY bracelet connects its wearers through physical gestures; couples can even keep track of their ‘love stats’ via the HEY app, which connects to the bracelet via Bluetooth (ensuring no squeeze is accidental).
However, if the thought of catching a cab on the most popular date night of the year is enough to send shivers up your spine (for all the wrong reasons), staying in is the new going out. In fact, 56% of people would choose to stay in with a takeaway rather than heading out to celebrate. And for couples across the pond, chefs Pepe, Giorgio, Marta, Bruno and Vincenzo – AKA the pizza robots – have put sustainable fast-food brand Zume Pizza in the spotlight as they bring piping hot delights to the homes of America’s sweethearts, with a fleet of trucks and scooters dispatched to deliver takeaway food in record time.
Or back on home soil, for those planning a Valentine’s playlist, cloud-based voice service ‘Alexa’ – courtesy of the Amazon Echo – is on hand to support even the most disorganised of partners. Prepping a romantic banquet for two? Get Alexa to walk you through a recipe step by step, courtesy of AllRecipes.com – a downloadable ‘skill’. If you feel your valiant attempts in the kitchen just won’t cut it, simply ask Alexa to make a reservation…
With candlelit dinners on the cards, the experience economy was on the up in 2017 – in part boosted by spending in pubs and restaurants – which saw double digit year-on-year increases of 12.2% and 12.6% respectively. For lovebirds with a little less cash this year, sausage roll high street king Greggs is even offering pasty fans the chance to enjoy a sit-down Valentine’s meal at selected branches across the UK (for the very first time), with a four-course menu including puff pastry sliders, doughnut skewers – and not forgetting a glass of bubbly.
Having teamed up with restaurant reservation app OpenTable, Greggs (among thousands of other eateries) have aligned with savvy payment apps to make eating out easy as pie. Others include Pingit, there to help split the bill by linking your fellow diner’s bank account with their phone number.
Like giving gifts?
For gift-hunters of the unconventional kind, studies also revealed that 21% of consumers wished to surprise their other halves with small personalised presents for Valentine’s Day – and the more weird and wonderful, the better. Evident from the selection of gifts promoted on sites like Etsy, the demand for unique and handmade presents is also driven by entrepreneurial moonlighters keen to fill a millennial-shaped gap in the market. Some of the most innovative ideas include an option to turn couples into paper dolls, a personalised soundwave print containing secret sweet nothings, or a precision hand-cut map of the postcode where you first locked eyes – all with frames included. And let’s not forget the ‘his and hers’ avocado necklaces, perfect for couples that brunch.
And if it goes really well…
With many champagne-popping proposals occurring on Valentine’s Day, the changing landscape of gift giving has also impacted the whimsical world of weddings. On the one hand, the trend for wedding gifts is now far more money-oriented, with the bridal party instead asking for cash to put towards a honeymoon fund, or better still, building a new home. Yet when it comes to a good old-fashioned registry, readily-nested couples are venturing beyond their go-to department store, instead opting for experiences over a never-to-be-used dinner service. Truly Experiences Travel, in partnership with The Wedding Shop, offer newlyweds a more adventurous gift list – with donations towards a Michelin-starred foodie getaway, horse riding on the beach at sunset, private museum tours and wine tasting on a vineyard (to name but a few) all around the world.
So, while over half of UK adults (52%) didn’t plan to buy a gift for their loved ones on Valentine’s Day last year (who needs an excuse to give flowers, right?), it is clear that some of these consumers are simply opting for a more low-key occassion.