Texas Perspectives

What Consumers Need to Remember About Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a holiday that may appear light-spirited, but in reality, it is a complex event for many people buying gifts, especially young consumers.

As a consumer psychologist who completed a five-year study looking at consumer behavior in the context of Valentine's Day, I say people, especially women, need to remember that this day is about love and affection, not the established traditions of card, candy and gifts.

Buying gifts is one way many of us show affection on Valentine's Day. U.S. retail sales related to Valentine's Day last year reached $17 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, with consumers spending an average $131. This gives V-Day a substantial economic significance as well as emotional significance.

Despite the romantic spirit of the mass-marketed day, the emotions consumers share online and offline, along with the ensuing decisions on what to buy, shows complexities of consumer psychology such as perceived obligations, escalating expectations and ambivalence that may turn to market resistance.

Whereas Super Bowl Sunday is often advertised as "a man's day," many women see Valentine's Day as their day a female day. It's a holiday when gender roles are on full display along with women's' ritual performance of marketplace exchanges of goods and services common to many holidays and special events.

Most people would agree that relationship status influences their experiences when it comes to Valentine's Day. Some consumers, especially women, have escalating expectations from themselves as well as loved ones when it comes to Valentine's Day.

The escalating expectations are to themselves as givers and also to the partners as givers. Not meeting expectations produces dissatisfaction, which is an opposition to the intention of the day love of all kinds.

These women perceive a broader gender role that transcends a romantic interest. Women especially feel responsibility and obligation to recognize their female loved ones. Women tend to include mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, girlfriends (especially single ones), and even pets.

Women have often been givers even on this day traditionally for women to receive. The day has broadened in scope, further heightening the escalated expectations of the self and others.

I found as a way for both to give lavishly, some women share extraordinary lavishness that expands Valentine's Day into "Valentine's Weekend." Lavishness is expected to escalate within a "Valentine's Day Weekend."

Furthermore, for some young women who have been in a relatively long-term dating relationship, they expect lavishness to escalate from year to year. Some women perceive the man's gender role is to plan or create a day that is more lavish each year.

For men, Valentine's Day may seem puzzling. Men need to be aware of the escalating expectations that some women, especially young women, have expressed to me over the years.

As expectations escalate, it is important for men to recognize this and not take cues from advertisers. Rather, each man should take cues from the unique woman he loves.

If the woman is also in favor of true intimacy minus the heavily advertised marketed suggestions such as greeting cards, chocolates, roses, jewelry or a lavish dinner out, then some men have had success managing expectations both ways with a mutual anti-gift mindset.

Yet some women tend to spend more time on the event and recognize more people than men tend to. Often, women see their role as to overcome mass-commercialized love and romance and find something more meaningful such as a family bond.

In part to perhaps revalue the role of the woman as a sexual being on this holiday, some women convert the holiday from a celebration of sexual intimacy to a celebration of familial love.

It's important for all consumers to remember the meaning of the day, or weekend as some believe, is about celebrating love love that does not need suggested marketplace exchanges to be shown on this one specific day.

Angeline Close Scheinbaum is an associate professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

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Texas Perspectives is a wire-style service produced by The University of Texas at Austin that is intended to provide media outlets with meaningful and thoughtful opinion columns (op-eds) on a variety of topics and current events. Authors are faculty members and staffers at UT Austin who work with University Communications to craft columns that adhere to journalistic best practices and Associated Press style guidelines. The University of Texas at Austin offers these opinion articles for publication at no charge. Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.