What consumers want in 2022 Show me

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Shop windows are littered with flashes of pink and red heart-shaped everything, and messages of love – including cards with messages like “Baby, Yoda one for me” for all those Star Wars fans out there.  

With Covid hurdles still being thrown our way, we’ll explore what’s heating up this Valentine’s Day, answering questions like:

  • What does Valentine’s Day look like around the world?
  • What makes up the “ideal” Valentine’s Day for people?
  • To gift or not to gift? If so, from where?

Valentine’s Day is different for everyone

Valentine’s Day is likely to conjure up a whole bunch of mixed feelings. Some might see it as the perfect time to celebrate important relationships. While for others, Valentine’s Day might be seen as just another gimmick or even lead to increased feelings of pressure and stress. 

Valentine’s Day also looks different by location. For example, Qixi Festival is traditionally known as China’s Valentine’s Day, falling annually on the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar. The festival has many unique traditions that involve wearing specific attire or preparing certain types of food. It’s also a major shopping holiday with many luxury brands getting in on the action. 

It makes sense then that 90% of loved-up consumers in China plan to celebrate the day this year. 

On the other side of the spectrum, consumers in Japan are the least likely to celebrate. Here, Valentine’s Day also looks a little different. 

Chart showing percentage of people who will be celebrating Valentine's Day per country

Traditionally on February 14th, Japanese women give chocolates to the men in their lives (including colleagues and friends), and then one month later on what’s known as “White Day”, men are supposed to return the favor with a gift that’s white. 

KitKat launched its KitKat’s Heartful Bear exclusively in Japan just in time for the day. While Starbucks unveiled its range of chocolate-heavy limited edition drinks

The practice of “Okaeshi”, which is a “thank you” gift, is something that’s deeply rooted in Japanese culture. But for many people, the obligation to give presents in return for a gift received can get expensive very quickly. The climbing expense combined with people becoming tired of gender-specific holidays and societal expectations has led to a decline in popularity and spending. 

This might help to partly explain why Japan sits at the bottom of the leader board when it comes to both celebrating this occasion and purchasing gifts. 

Brands and marketers need to take into account cultural nuances, and make sure their approach isn’t a “one-size-fits-all”. 

Not everybody will appreciate the lovey-dovey spam or pressure to purchase gifts, so it’s important to get the balance right. 

According to Axios, ads and promotions around holidays, particularly those focused on relationships, can lead to increased anxiety and depression – and can be difficult to ignore. That’s why many brands are increasingly giving consumers the choice to opt out of marketing emails in the run up to holidays like Valentine’s Day. 

It all boils down to being more aware that everyone’s situation is different, and therefore, what might work for one person, won’t necessarily work for another. Showing awareness and compassion, and allowing consumers the freedom to turn off if they need to is important for building up trust. 

Making up for lost experiences

Across many markets, Valentine’s Day is about doing something together and creating an experience out of it. Dining out is the top way to celebrate across 7 of the 9 countries surveyed, which will be more likely for many people this year as total lockdowns decrease thanks to Omicron generally being considered a milder variant. 

Chart showing how people in a relationship plan to celebrate Valentine's Day

Many consumers are also dreaming of taking a trip or vacation to celebrate, and it actually ranks top in China ahead of everything else, which is made all the more possible because they traditionally celebrate the day in summer. And who could blame them? 

The pandemic completely hammered the travel industry and people’s bucket lists, so with the COVID situation in many countries becoming a “let’s learn to live with it” mentality, we’ll likely see many consumers planning more trips and making up for lost time. It’s a theme we explored in our Connecting the dots report, and it’s something that really shines through when looking at travel intentions for the year ahead.  

32% of Valentine’s Day celebrators in 7 countries plan to take a short summer break and 26% plan to take a longer summer break or a city break this year. 

On top of this, around half of vacation planners plan to spend more this year on their vacations – signaling a desire to go all-out. It might require more contingency planning such as comprehensive travel insurance, but travel this year is looking more accessible than before. 

With demand for vacations building up, now’s the time for brands to hone in on consumers’ need to get away and make up for missed experiences. In the US and UK, vacation planners looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience or wanting to experience something new are up 16% and 12%, respectively, since we last asked this question in January 2021. 

There’s definitely a growing desire to tick off wishlists and experience new adventures. 

ABTA research found that travelers plan to treat themselves more for their next trip, such as staying longer than normal or upgrading their hotel. 

Once-in-a-lifetime trips like visiting the Galapagos are also among the most popular trips for G Adventures. Some of CN Traveller’s top travel trends for 2022 paint a similar picture, with all-inclusive luxury, long-haul holidays, and extreme expeditions making the list. 

But for some, the perfect Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean draining your savings. 

In the US and UK, ordering takeout has seen the biggest increases since last year, while cooking at home has declined. This all bodes well for restaurants and food delivery providers – the latter of which is growing exponentially – but perhaps less so for meal kits and other DIY options. Clearly, some consumers are over the cook-it-yourself Valentine’s night that many became accustomed to last year and would prefer to get it handed to them. 

Roses, chocolates, or none at all? 

Traditionally, gifts of some kind – flowers, chocolates, teddy bears (the usual suspects) – typically make the rounds on Valentine’s Day. 

But in our research, gift-giving has taken a bit of a knock in some markets. In 2022, the portion of those planning to purchase a gift for Valentine’s Day has dropped by 18% since last year in the US and UK. This might be down to more people wanting to do an experience together, rather than spend money on a physical present, which can often get forgotten about. 

Of course, this again varies by market. 

Consumers in China are the most avid gift buyers of the lot, with 86% of couples planning to purchase one this year. 

And many plan to make an occasion of it – 35% of loved up consumers in China say that shopping for gifts is one of their top ways to celebrate the day. Splashing out for Valentine’s Day is big business in China, but the price can be high for brands who get it wrong. 

Some luxury brands received backlash from consumers when Qixi product launches missed the mark – mostly for not accurately reflecting the culture and tradition of the holiday. Prada, on the other hand, had a hit with their campaign which celebrated Qixi with an exclusive range of men’s and women’s items told through a modern retelling of Qixi legend

The learnings here? Make sure the efforts around this holiday are real, double down on exclusivity, and understand cultural nuances between markets. 

On the other hand, consumers in Germany, Japan, and France are the least likely to buy gifts. But, gift-giving across countries still doesn’t drop below 40%, which is still a sizable market of people wanting to splash out. 

With spending on gifts reaching $21.8 billion in the US alone last year, this is reassuring news for the thousands of brands out there marketing gifts for the all-important people in our lives. Relationship status doesn’t matter either, because even among those who aren’t coupled up currently, 53% say they plan to purchase a gift this year, showing that Valentine’s isn’t purely romantic. 

Chart showing where people plan to buy their Valentine's Day gifts

As for where consumers plan to purchase gifts, ecommerce sites take the top spot on a global level (43%), followed by shopping centers/malls (40%). As before, there’s notable country differences worth calling out.

While ecommerce sites take the top spot across 7 of our 9 markets surveyed, China and Japan are the exception.

In these markets, shopping centers take the top spot. It’s a close race between ecommerce sites here (especially when compared to other countries), but it really underlines how important the physical store still is in these markets. 

Shopping locally or at smaller independent stores nabs the second spot for consumers in Italy, with 34% of gift buyers preferring this option. We also see considerable interest in shopping locally across markets like Germany, France, and the US.

For many gift-buyers in these markets, independent boutiques that are more likely to stock special, one-of-a-kind items are something they’ll gravitate more toward. This is all super encouraging news for indie stores that continue to navigate and overcome COVID-driven hurdles, all while facing mammoth competition from ecommerce heavyweights. For them, it’s all about offering something different to consumers that they can’t find at bigger retailers. 

Mindful Valentine’s

As the world continues to evolve, it’s never been more important to have consumer-driven data to help understand changing mindsets and guide better decision-making. 

The appeal of Valentine’s Day varies a lot throughout the world, and it’s crucial to take into account consumer differences. 

It’s better to approach with care, rather than bombard and potentially risk alienating people. 

We’ve also seen clear signs that consumers are looking to make up for lost time, and they’re not keen to waste another minute of it. For brands, leaning into this newfound mindset, but doing so in a thoughtful way and giving consumers the power to switch off if they need to, could set them apart from the rest. 

Report The biggest 2022 trends View now

Written by

Katie is a Senior Trends Manager at GWI. She’s an avid baker and Harry Potter fanatic, who loves to binge-watch all the latest shows. When she’s not busy whipping up a cheesecake or watching murder-mysteries, you’ll find her exploring what makes consumers tick.

You’ve read our blog, now see our platform

Every business has questions about its audiences, GWI has answers. Powered by consistent, global research, our platform is an on-demand window into their world.