Sunday, February 8, 2004

Women giving as well as receiving


'My mother would never have thought
about buying my dad a Valentine's Day
gift ... but times have changed'

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Valentine's gifts
(Michael E. Keating/The
Cincinnati Enquirer)
Gender equity at St. Valentine's Day?

New data suggest that the lovers' holiday, traditionally seen as a time when men give gifts to wives and sweethearts, is undergoing an overhaul as more women are buying gifts for their husbands and boyfriends.

In fact, the survey by the Pennsylvania-based consumer research firm Unity Marketing shows women now are nearly as likely as men to give gifts on St. Valentine's Day. According to the survey, 68 percent of women and 72 percent of men plan to buy presents this year.

The survey also found that women buy slightly more Valentine's gifts than men, although men still spend more on gifts - averaging $171 buying presents, compared to $78 spent by women.

Those findings were supported by a recent Enquirer/WCPO poll that found 27 percent of men plan to spend at least $50 on Valentine's gifts while only 16 percent of women plan to spend that much.

Overall, 3 of 4 adults in Greater Cincinnati planned to spend $50 or less on Valentine's gifts, according to the poll conducted by SurveyUSA.

"When it comes to buying jewelry for their husbands or significant others, women are definitely price-sensitive,'' said Maurice Toney, manager at Rogers Jewelers in the Carew Tower Arcade of downtown Cincinnati. "But we've definitely seen an increase in women over the last few seasons buying cuff links, gold chains and bracelets for men for Valentine's Day.''

At Godiva Chocolatier at Kenwood Towne Center in Kenwood, pre-orders for chocolate-covered strawberries are up significantly compared to last year, thanks largely to the demand from women, said Phil Smith, a longtime sales associate.

"We've seen more women ordering strawberries this year than in previous years, that's for sure,'' said Smith. "A lot of women buy them for themselves or family and friends, but they're ordering for the guys, too.''

The trend has lifted St. Valentine's Day into position as retailers' third most profitable gift-giving holiday, behind Christmas and Mother's Day, and provides a welcome mid-winter sales boost for many retailers, according to the National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group.

"Valentine's Day has become a very big business for retailers in what is traditionally one of the slowest shopping months of the year,'' said Tracy Mullin, the trade group's CEO.

To target the growing female market, some retailers are customizing their offerings to promote gifts for both genders.

Traditional Valentine's presents, such as flowers, candles and stuffed animals often leave women stumped when they ask themselves, "What gift would he like?'', said Andy Reith, who owns Walnut Street Popcorn & Sweets in downtown Cincinnati and in Blue Ash.

The shop sells chocolate-covered strawberries, popcorn and other sweets in tins and gift boxes designed to appeal to both sexes, with traditional heart-shaped boxes for women and sports and outdoor-themed containers for men.

The increasing presence of women as a factor in the St. Valentine's Day market offers insights into changing gender relations, in general, but it also underscores the increased buying power of women and their impact on overall consumer spending, which accounts for about three-fifths of total economic growth.

"My mother would never have thought about buying my dad a Valentine's Day gift; it just wasn't done in her generation,'' said Mary Riley of Norwood, who was browsing the aisles recently at the Z. Gallery at Rookwood Commons in Norwood. "But times have changed, and just like a relationship requires some give and take from both sides, buying gifts shouldn't be just the man's responsibility. I buy my boyfriend little things all the time, and he's always very appreciative.''

In addition to gift retailers, venues such as restaurants and nightclubs will likely see a big boost in business this St. Valentine's Day because it falls on a Saturday.

More than 44 percent of couples plan to go out on Valentine's evening, up from 38 percent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

"We've only got four reservations left,'' Bonnie Bromwell, a spokeswoman for Bonefish Grille in Hyde Park said Wednesday - 10 days before St. Valentines Day. "We've been almost full since Friday, and we're opening an hour early (3 p.m. instead of 4 p.m.) to accommodate the demand," she said.

E-mail rtucker@enquirer.com




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