To Me, With Love

Lori Schwartz picks out Valentine's Day cards for her children. Non-couple gifts for the holiday have gained popularity.
Lori Schwartz picks out Valentine's Day cards for her children. Non-couple gifts for the holiday have gained popularity. (By Tony Dejak -- Associated Press)
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Forget love. Let's talk about shopping.

Stores have long encouraged couples to show their devotion on Valentine's Day by dropping bucks on chocolates, roses and a bottle of wine of impressive provenance. But now some retailers are targeting singles -- and finding that many are willing to spend just as much as twosomes in indulging themselves this holiday.

"Valentine's Day always comes with a certain amount of expectation and angst," said Jennifer Olsen, senior director of marketing for Piperlime, an online shoe store owned by Gap. "We just wanted to turn that on its head and say: 'You know what? It's Valentine's Day. Give some love to yourself.' "

For many women, that love can be expressed in the form of $350 white Mary Jane wedges by Cynthia Vincent, found under the "Be your own Valentine" category at Piperlime. The promotion began in mid-January, and the company followed up last week with an e-mail to customers with the image of a gift tag that read "To me, from me, xoxo." Sales have been strong, Olsen said.

The National Retail Federation, the country's largest retail trade group, estimates the average consumer will spend $119.67 for Valentine's Day this year, up from $100.89 last year. Men are expected to outpace women, with charges of $156.22 compared with $85.08. But the group does not track how much people spend on themselves for Valentine's Day, spokesman Scott Krugman said.

Still, "it makes total sense," he said. "People certainly do reward themselves during the holidays."

The latest Census data might encourage retailers to broaden the reach of Valentine's Day beyond snuggly couples. According to the American Community Survey done in 2005, nearly 58 million females, or almost half of those over age 15, have never been married or are separated, divorced or widowed, up almost 5 percent from three years earlier. Since 1990, the number has jumped nearly 20 percent.

That's part of the reason why Helle Jeppsson, one of the owners of Hela Spa in Georgetown, sent an e-mail reminder to her clients that their significant others need not be the only recipients of their generosity. Last year, a group of about a dozen single women took her advice to heart and rented out the spa for a night of facials, massages and cocktails, she said.

"I personally feel that Valentine's Day -- I know from when I was single -- it can be kind of rough out there when we see all these couples," she said.

Cosmetics retailer Sephora dismisses the traditional dinner-and-a-movie date as "such a yawn" on its Web site. Instead, the company suggests women buy themselves pink lip glosses and peachy face powder to mimic love's glow. Kelly O'Neill, product marketing director for software developer ATG, which powers Sephora's site along with those of several other national chains, said other retailers are subtly packaging products together online to encourage customers to buy items for themselves even if they're looking for presents for others.

"It's all about Valentine's Day," O'Neill said, "yet it's not screaming about buying gifts."

Ronnie Mervis, of local jeweler Mervis Diamond Importers, said business for Valentine's Day picked up in early February and he expects it to last through the week. Three women have been among the men browsing the cases at his stores, he said. One bagged a heart-shaped pendant encrusted in diamonds, another got a pair of earrings and the third bought a bracelet, all for themselves.

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