Consumers Being Cautious With Valentine’s Day Spending

Even though the economy is still struggling, people will spend slightly more on Valentine's Day this year than they did in 2013. But for most, this won't be a high-cost romance extravaganza.

According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, "the average person plans to spend $133.91 on candy, cards, gifts, dinner, and more, up slightly from $130.97 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $17.3 billion."

"This is the one day of the year when millions find a way to show their loved ones they care," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release. "Consumers can expect Cupid's holiday to resemble the promotional holiday season we saw just a few months ago, as retailers recognize that their customers are still looking for the biggest bang for their buck."

What are we buying?

Statista created a chart based on the NRF survey showing what both men and women are purchasing. The only glaring difference is that very few men are receiving flowers or jewelry as gifts. You have to assume that "lingerie that's really a gift for him" from L Brands   (NYSE: LB  ) Victoria's Secret is accounted for under the 14% of clothing that men buy.

Big business, but for who?

According to the survey, nearly half (48.7%) of all gift-givers will buy candy -- good news for Hershey (NYSE: HSY  ) , which offers both affordable mid-market candy items and owns the high-end Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. The company also owns Dagoba Organic Chocolates, which gives it a Valentine's Day play for the hippy set.

Rival Nestle is less well-positioned for the holiday as it owns more convenience store brands such as Butterfinger and Kit-Kat. And though Nestle does own the higher-end Haage-Dazs ice cream brand, the company has not positioned its chocolate assortments as Valentine's day gifts as aggressively as Hershey.

With flowers being sent by 37.3% and more than half of all people (51.25%) buying greeting cards, other big holiday winners could be 1-800-Flowers (NASDAQ: FLWS  )  and privately owned Hallmark.

And the gift most associated with the holiday (well, after that big heart-shaped candy box), jewelry, will be purchased by 19% of gift-givers, with spending totaling $3.9 billion.

Tiffany (NYSE: TIF  ) does not disclose sales figures for the holiday, Media Relations Manager Kerry Tropeano told the Fool, but she did acknowledge that "Valentine's Day is an extremely important occasion for the company."

Not just for couples?

Men will spend $108.38 on gifts for their significant others – twice as much as women who will spend $49.41 on their special someone. But Valentine's Day isn't just for couples; people will show their appreciation for family members (59.4%), friends (21.7%), teachers (20.4%), and colleagues (12.1%). And like every holiday, Americans won't forget about their pets --19.4% will buy gifts for their furry friends, spending an average of $5.51.

"While fewer are planning to celebrate Valentine's Day this year, millions of shoppers will still make room in their discretionary budgets to send cards and gifts to loved ones or enjoy a special evening out," says Prosper Insights and Analytics Director Pam Goodfellow in response to the NRF survey. "Consumers can expect promotions on everything from flowers to date night dinner packages in the coming days, leaving plenty of ideas for those looking to spoil their Valentines."

Frugality rules

According to the NRF, cautious consumers do their research when it comes to shopping, and many will purchase gifts online. The survey found that 26.1% plan to shop online this Valentine's Day, flat with last year's 26.3%. Many will turn to their tablets or smartphones before making their final gift decisions; 24% will research products or compare prices on their smartphones and 32.2% will do so on their tablets.

That willingness to go online in search of a deal could be good news for Amazon.com  (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) as the online retailer sells chocolate, lingerie, cards, and pretty much anything else that might be given as a Valentine's Day gift.

As we speak, Amazon's homepage features a heart-festooned kindle and "Last-Minute Valentines" with free one-day shipping. It's not too late to add to this year's spending totals.

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