I was wandering around Coney Island one day not too long ago with a few friends when a scruffy, bearded guy who was trying to sell some equally scruffy stuffed animals stopped us. “Come on guys,” he somewhat insolently bellowed at the two boys with us. “Buy some goods for your ladies. If you don’t put out now… they won’t put out later.” Needless to say, the two boys did not put out, and we all hurriedly moved on, leaving Scruffy to try his luck on other couples.
His speech got me thinking about the impact that a monetary exchange can have on human interaction, particularly on a day like today. Valentine’s day is supposed to be a time to express your feelings of affection for a loved one. But for those who, while in a relationship, are still unwilling to participate in this yearly ritual it can’t be easy to withstand the pressure. Marketing messages are everywhere, and men in particular are under pressure to perform and “put out” to express their love. And yet, as an LA Times editor put it some years ago, isn’t compulsory love an oxymoron?
In spite of all the controversy and ambivalent emotions surrounding the idea of a day to express your love, Valentine’s Day is undoubtedly big business. This year is expected to be even bigger than usual.
Dreamy-eyed shoppers are expected to spend an average of $123 for the day. According to the National Retail Federation, more than half of consumers plan to celebrate their love with a special night out. About 48 percent will buy candy, 36 percent will splurge on flowers, and 12 percent will buy clothing.
Men are expected to spend $163.37 on gifts and cards, almost double that estimated to be spent by women.
The average 25-34 year old is the highest spender, shelling out $160, while perhaps more jaded (or just more frugal) 55-64 year olds are the lowest spenders, paying about $111.
While regarded by some as an occasion that makes singles acutely aware of their singleness, Valentine’s Day attempts to portray itself as a feel good occasion for all, and people spend money on everything from their pets ($367 million) to their co-workers, so the day doesn’t have to be exclusively for the partnered among us.
And it’s also an important source of income for poorer countries such as Kenya, which managed to fulfill a demand for red roses in Europe this year, in spite of the recent vicious wave of violence in the African country.
All this taken into account, this year, Valentine’s Day will bring US retailers a hearty (excuse the pun) 17 billion. Whether this stems from men who are pressured to put out to prove themselves or women who don’t want to be left out, being in love is clearly good for business too.