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Retailers prepare for Valentine's Day rush

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, many shoppers will make a last-minute dash to the store for gifts.

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Cassie Penley looks at earrings for her 13-month-old daughter Katelyn at Kmart on Washington Road. Store manager Michael Sosby said shoppers ''come in droves'' to make last-minute purchases the day before Valentine's Day. He said jewelry and cellphones are popular.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Cassie Penley looks at earrings for her 13-month-old daughter Katelyn at Kmart on Washington Road. Store manager Michael Sosby said shoppers ''come in droves'' to make last-minute purchases the day before Valentine's Day. He said jewelry and cellphones are popular.

Jewelry stores, florists and other retailers are accustomed to consumers’ last-minute shopping habits for Valentine’s Day.

According to Next Jump, a New York-based company that administers rewards programs for 90,000 corporations and credit card companies and owns one of the largest consumer databases, 60 percent of last year’s Valentine’s Day purchases were made in the final five days before Feb. 14. Next Jump also found that 70 percent of Valentine’s Day-related shopping on its corporate perks and consumer discount marketplaces was done by men.

“Valentine’s Day is a last-minute type of holiday,” said Michael Zibman, the general manager at Windsor Fine Jewelers on Wash­ing­ton Road. “It’s not typically like C­hristmas, where people start planning months in advance. It’s usually a three- or four-day event, depending upon when Valentine’s Day falls.”

To handle the influx of last-minute shoppers, mostly men, Windsor brings in its entire staff. After Christ­mas, Valentine’s Day usually ranks second or third in sales each year, competing with Mother’s Day.

“We’re trying to get people to think a little bit earlier for Valen­tine’s Day and hopefully draw people in a little bit early,” Zibman said.

Darren Alston, of Augusta, who was shopping at Target, said he plans to buy a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife but probably won’t start until this week.

“I’m a procrastinator. I’m a traditional late shopper,” he said. “I wait until the very last moment. I think a lot of people do. I just go in there and shop around. I try to get what she doesn’t have.”

Amelia’s Buds & Blooms Florist on Washington Road in Augusta has been in business for 27 years, and it has many last-minute shoppers each year, owner Amelia Pate said.

“We have to pre-order so early that we try hard to make an educated guess at what everybody is going to want. So far, we’ve been lucky,” Pate said. “If they want red roses, that doesn’t tend to be a problem. It’s when they want mixed colors, because they sell very quickly.”

Pate triples her staff around Valentine’s Day. It’s the biggest holiday of the year for her business, and sales have increased every year.

“This year, I have gotten wise, and I’ve hired an extra driver or two just to cover those last-minute fellows that call me Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock and want it delivered by noon,” Pate said.

Many regular customers at Lady­bug’s Flowers & Gifts on Furys Fer­ry Road have pre-booked their orders, but owner Susan Bone said she is anticipating lots of last-minute calls Monday and walk-ins Tuesday.

Bone and her staff, including a dozen extra drivers, will be working all weekend. She tells customers to pre-order so they can get the flowers they want, but she will have options for last-minute shoppers.

John Bledsoe, of Grovetown, has been buying last-minute Valentine’s Day gifts for years. He’s been married to his wife, Gloria, for 38 years. They were shopping at Kmart on Washington Road on Tuesday for a Valentine’s Day gift for her boss.

“When it gets January, they start putting out Valen­tine’s stuff. That’s too early,” John Bledsoe said. “For Valen­tine’s Day, you need to put it out about two days before Valentine’s so you can get in the mood. The way stuff is now, I can’t get in the mood for anything.”

Kmart manager Michael Sos­by said shoppers will buy perfume, gift sets, toys and electronics, such as cellphones and netbooks.

“The day before Valentine’s Day, it gets extremely busy. They really come in in droves. It’s very similar to Halloween,” Sosby said. “Cellphones are huge. They love buying cellphones for Valentine’s Day. You generally have to really beef up your jewelry department.”

The store sells more helium balloons for Valentine’s than any other week. The holiday is profitable, but it’s important to market merchandise aggressively, starting in early January, he said.

“The problem with Valen­tine’s Day is it’s all very specific stuff. It’s very hard to sell a box of chocolates with a heart on it any other time of the year,” Sosby said. “The day after Valentine’s, there’s no demand for it. With it being at the last minute, it can make a retailer pretty nervous. When you come in four days before Valentine’s, you’ve still got 50 percent of what you were initially shipped.”

Cassie Penley, of Au­gusta, said she always waits until the last minute to buy Valentine’s Day gifts. On Tues­day, she purchased 14-karat gold heart-shaped earrings at Kmart as a Val­entine’s gift for her 13-month-old daughter.

“Usually, it’s all at the last minute. It’s easier to keep it hidden. The guys like to search for things,” Penley said. “If you don’t wait until the last minute, it’s going to get broken into before the holiday.”

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