Valentine’s Day Lights E-Commerce Fire

Spurred on by the ease of Internet shopping, the online market for Valentine’s Day goods and services in 2001 will have increased by more than 16 million users in North America compared to a year ago, according to a study released Tuesday by Gartner Group.

Overall, Gartner said that North Americans will spend a total of US$2 billion for Valentine’s Day goods and services online and offline. Gartner attributed the expected 25 percent increase over last year’s sales of $1.5 billion to increased prices and “a larger and more mature online market.”

Another study, released Tuesday by Jupiter Media Metrix, found that traffic to gift e-tailers, personals sites and romance-related sites had surged over last year, as more Web users turned to the Web to shop for gifts — and look for love.

“People are increasingly turning to the Internet as a tool and resource not only for shopping, but also for communicating with other people through personals and e-greetings,” Jupiter analyst Heather Dougherty said.

The number of Web visitors to e-tailers offering gifts, flowers, and greeting cards increased by 45.6 percent over last year, growing from 12.3 million in January 2000 to 17.9 million in January 2001, Jupiter said.

Visits to fragrance and cosmetics e-tailers were also up, growing 24.3 percent from 2 million last January to 2.5 million in January 2001.

Love, Anyone?

Meanwhile, according to eMarketer, Gifts.com is the No. 1 site for buying gifts online.

Other top e-tailers, eMarketer said, include Red Envelope, GiftTree.com, Ashford.com and BestSelections.com.

“The Internet offers a simple solution to gift shoppers who are often pressed for time and ideas,” eMarketer senior analyst Jonathan Jackson said.

eMarketer made its selections of the top sites based on a number of factors, including product selection, price, usability, service and presentation.

Looking for Love

Americans not only logged on to the Net to find gifts, they also logged on to look for love. According to Jupiter’s research, visits to online dating sites, such as Match.com, Oneandonly.com and Matchmaker.com, increased 46.9 percent over last year, growing from 3.9 million unique visitors in January 2000 to 5.8 million in January 2001.

Notably, while men account for 58.3 percent of visitors to personals sites, women outnumber men substantially at romance-related sites as Lovingyou.com and TheKnot.com, where they comprise 55.6 and 63.1 percent of the audience, respectively.

For Love or Money

Although some people cringe at the commercialization of love during the Valentine’s Day season, in the dog-eat-dog world of e-commerce, only those companies that can leverage the traffic and turn the visitor numbers into a profitable revenue stream will survive.

For online dating sites, nothing could be more important than building additional revenue streams.

“Sites must turn this traffic into customer relationship-building opportunities and maximize revenue possibilities through advertising and product sales,” Dougherty said.

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