It's that time of year, when retail makes us feel that love is in the air. In this two-part Valentine's analysis, we'll be looking at key global retailers' strategies for the commercial holiday - the products, communications and promotions from 2013 and those first out of the starting blocks in 2014. First up, we're looking at the best of Valentine's visual merchandising - our pick of the best newsletters and homepages drawn from EDITD’s archive of brand communications.
Timing matters: 2013 vs 2014
The earliest evidence of online Valentine's merchandising we detected was from UK lingerie retailer, Figleaves. They first posted Valentine’s imagery on their homepage on the 9th January this year - the same date their 2013 promotions were launched too. Last year, Urban Outfitters were relatively early into their promotions, sending out their first Valentine-themed newsletter on the 20th January 2013, however this year they've scaled back that eagerness, having not yet mentioned Valentine's at all.
Victoria's Secret, for whom Valentine's is clearly a key focus, sent out their first newsletter on the 27th January this year, followed by another the next day. 2013's archive shows the brand sent four appeals in total - so we expect more to come from Victoria's Secret this year.
Next, British multinational retailer, began promoting Valentine's on the 30th January 2013, so we're expecting their first newsletter to arrive in the coming days. Agent Provocateur and Forever 21 both sent out newsletters in the final days of January 2013, whereas River Island, House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer all waited to the first week of February to begin their promotions. Both Boden and River Island sent email newsletters on Valentine's Day itself - a sweet touch considering the window for purchases has likely closed.
So, what tactics did the retailers use to attract their shoppers' attention?
Gifts are a safe bet, but not used enough
Perhaps the most reliable of holiday formats, it's no surprise that many retailers rely on a 'Gifts for Him' and 'Gifts for Her' strategy. Urban Outfitter's newsletter of 1st February 2013 edits together love-themed or red/pink colored clothing, accessories, footwear and homewares and pushes the hashtag, #uolovefest. On Twitter, the retailer asked followers to share the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for them, or the best gift they'd ever received to encourage usage of the hashtag. The campaign’s response was underwhelming and perhaps would have had more traction with a prize incentive.
Nordstrom took advantage of their menswear newsletter to promote Valentine's gifting on the 4th February 2013 - with lingerie, perfume, jewellery, dress and footwear arranged in a flat layout alongside a menswear outfit. Other than this, we didn't find much evidence of retailers overtly promoting women's gifting for the male shopper - a missed opportunity perhaps given that men are savvy online shoppers.
From gifting to dating
Understanding that the majority of their consumer base is likely to be female, there were a large number of retailers who moved their Valentine's themes away from gifting, and instead focused on pulling together outfits for the occasion. Marks & Spencer's 2nd February 2013 email suggested two different looks: 'red hot' or 'sleek & chic". Next's offering was an appealing layout of outfits styled around the colours blush, hot pink, scarlet and berry. Both retailers also linked to flower delivery options.
Meanwhile, Boden took an interesting approach, not mentioning the event until the 14th and only then under the heading of "Desperately seeking a sole mate this Valentine's Day?" followed by staff picks of their favourite Boden shoes, including some "pulse-racing penny loafers"! We suspect Boden's approach comes from Valentine's commercial fatigue, and although they may have missed some critical red and pink colored sales in the lead-up, we enjoyed their tone, even if late in the day.
Then there're those who went straight for lingerie, with no messing around with gifts, flowers and date outfits! Agent Provocateur and Victoria's Secret, whose primary focuses are of course lingerie, kept things seriously seductive with their campaigns.
Agent Provocateur's 2013 campaign included a Valentine's video starring Poppy Delevingne and featured retro pin-up inspired imagery of black and red coloured lingerie. Victoria's Secret 2014 campaign promoting the 14th as "Bombshell Day", so far has featured red or black lace lingerie and perfume, whereas last year's featured only red lingerie.
There was a notable absence of Valentine's mentions from Topshop, Zara, Uniqlo and Target US in 2013. So far, these retailers haven't pushed the holiday in 2014, but we'll be carefully watching to see if they've taken the plunge. Zara often evade commercial holidays, but the other three are surprising omissions from the Valentine's fun!
Stayed tuned for part two of our Valentine's analysis next week. Sign up to our Insider Briefing newsletter today and never miss an article!