- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

Forget about red roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Instead, the ideal gift of love this Valentine’s Day is a screwdriver set. Or a kitchen appliance. Or a cell phone.

More nontraditional retailers are playing cupid this year in order to cash in on a gift-giving opportunity during a usually slow time. It’s a sweet move considering consumers are expected to dish out nearly $13 billion for Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

“For retailers and marketers, Valentine’s Day is a welcome midwinter sales boost,” says Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a marketing consulting firm in Pennsylvania.

Valentine’s Day, which is tomorrow, is the “third most-gifted holiday” behind Christmas and Mother’s Day, according to research from Unity Marketing. About 70 percent of Americans buy Valentine’s Day gifts, compared with 96 percent for Christmas and 74 percent for Mother’s Day.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. has a variety of last-minute gift ideas featured on its Web site, including the George Foreman Super Champ Grilling Machine for $29.99, the Craftsman 24-piece screwdriver set for $29.99 and a KitchenAid 5-quart mixer for $249.99.

“You can only do traditional for so long before it gets boring,” says Rochelle Williams, a spokeswoman for the department-store chain.

Valentine’s Day is no longer just about giving gifts to significant others. It has been extended to family and friends, teachers and students. About two-thirds of Valentine gift givers will buy for family members, the NRF said. One in four consumers also plan to buy gifts for friends.

“As people increasingly buy gifts for others, [Valentine’s Day] continues to be an important holiday for us,” Ms. Williams said.

Home Depot is trying to steer gift givers away from traditional presents, highlighting gift cards and kitchen utensils on its Web site.

“Chocolates — a classic Valentine’s Day gift — make a wonderful first impression, but chocolates go stale or get eaten,” the Web site says.

The site features the “Dream Kitchen Gift Box,” which includes chrome utensils, a canister for pasta and a one-year subscription to Style Ideas Magazine for $39.99. The Web site says the gift is “an easy way to say, ‘This relationship is still cooking.’”

“Alternative gifts seem to be en vogue this year,” said Home Depot spokesman Don Harrison. “We would like people to think about Home Depot — we’re not just for Christmas or birthdays, and we’re not just for men.”

The list of nontraditional retailers trying to get a piece of the Valentine’s Day pie is endless. Circuit City’s “Sweet deals for your sweetheart” promotion showcases digital cameras and wireless phones. Ikea, the Swedish furniture chain, focuses on a romantic retreat with a heart-shaped rug, tea-light candle holders and red candles.

Wireless-phone companies are feeling the love, too.

Cingular Wireless’ newspaper ads are full of hearts and tout the latest phone sales that end Sunday. T-Mobile customers can download love songs such as Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” or “One Love” by Bob Marley and the Wailers as their ring tones or download heart logos on their displays.

Radio Shack’s Web site highlights “unique Valentine gifts” such as talking frames, digital cameras and a heart-shaped voice recorder that records 10-second messages for $6.99.

“We’re trying to stimulate people’s imagination with something they didn’t think about,” said Debbie Munir, a Radio Shack spokeswoman.

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