- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

Retailers are looking for love this Valentine's Day. After a disappointing Christmas shopping season, stores have transformed themselves with pink and red decor and merchandise hoping to tug at shoppers' hearts and purse strings.
"Valentine's Day comes when it's traditionally slow for retailers, so they are looking for any boost they can get," said Ellen Tolley, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation (NRF).
Retail sales increased a modest 2.2 percent during the 2002 Christmas shopping period a crucial time for the industry. Almost as soon as Christmas decorations and postholiday sale items disappeared, stores replaced their shelves with Valentine's Day-themed merchandise.
"Retailers are being realistic about Valentine's Day," Miss Tolley said. "People are still very cautious with their spending."
About 86 percent of U.S. adults are expected to buy gifts, shelling out on average about $72, according to a recent survey by the International Mass Retail Association (IMRA). Shoppers will be spending about $23 less than they did last year, according to the survey.
"Valentine shoppers are focusing on value and convenience this year more than in the past several years," IMRA President Sandra L. Kennedy said. "The great majority intends to purchase something this year, but they are relying more on the value-oriented retailers and the Internet."
Cards, candy, flowers, gift cards and stuffed animals round out the top items people plan to buy this year, according to IMRA.
Nearly 1 billion Valentine's day cards are sold each year second only to the 2.5 billion Christmas cards sold annually, according to the District-based Greeting Card Association. The NRF says 80 percent of Americans will give their spouse or significant other a greeting card Friday.
Many retailers continue to sell traditional items because shoppers are still looking for them.
"It's a very important holiday for us," said Diane Daly, a spokeswoman for Hecht's. "We devote a lot of space to traditional items."
The department store chain, which has had its Valentine's Day signs up for several weeks, expects to sell boxes of Godiva chocolate, fragrances, lingerie, jewelry and scarves with a Valentine's Day theme, Ms. Daly said.
More than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold this year, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.
Other retailers have expanded beyond traditional products. Target Corp. has increased its assortment of merchandise over the years.
"People kind of expect us to have the newest, on-trend item during these times," spokesman Douglas Kline said. "Our guests ask for it and we respond to it."
The discount retailer, which has a "Love Goes Around" theme, is selling many traditional items with a twist. For instance, the stores are offering create-your-own cards and make-your-own candy kits.
"We're taking the Valentine's Day appeal and marrying it to the do-it-yourself appeal," Mr. Kline said. "Valentine's Day is important to us, as many secondary holidays are."
Miss Tolley says retailers have become increasingly aware that Feb. 14 isn't just about couples anymore.
"It's about the entire network of people you know," she said.

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