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Valentine's Day: Christmas Continued?

While many of those planning to hit the malls for Valentine's Day gifts wait until the last minute, online consumers' fears that purchases would not reach their loved ones in timely fashion have forced them to procrastinate less since e-commerce traffic for the holiday began picking up the first week of the new year.

Of the estimated $3.6 billion people will spend on Valentine's Day shopping, approximately $730 million of it will be spent online, with two out of three home Internet users expecting to shop online for Valentine's Day, according to a survey completed by PC Data Online.

Nielsen//NetRatings looked at the five weeks leading up to the holiday and reported the percentage of women shopping online dwarfed the number of men shopping on the Web by a 70 percent to 30 percent ratio. This statistic ruled despite the fact that the majority of ad impressions were targeted toward men.

It also held despite PC Data's finding that women were likely to spend $61 less than men on their significant other. On average, male respondents said they expect to spend $107 for Valentine's Day gifts, while women expect to spend $46. The PC Data survey covered 1,346 home-based Net users between Feb. 7 and Feb. 9. What's more, NetRatings said that women make up 80 percent of the number of gift certificates purchased, suggesting that both women and men are at a loss to figure out what men want from their significant other.

"As fast as Christmas ads were going down, ads for Valentine's day were going up -- online and offline," said Peggy O'Neill, director of analytical services at Nielsen//NetRatings. Advertising for Valentine's Day spiked in the last week of January, with a 300 percent gain from Jan. 23 to Jan. 30.

Not surprisingly then, dot-com traffic surged the week before Valentine's Day, though jewelry purchases plummeted, presumably because consumers made their heftier buys ahead of time. However, some analysts say we haven't seen the buying spike yet, as we are on the verge of the weekend.

"Valentine's Day gifts are typically bought at the last minute and our review of online traffic to gifts, flowers, greeting cards and jewelry sites confirms this," said Sean Wargo, Internet analyst for PC Data Online. "Look for the spike representing Valentine's Day purchases to occur this weekend."

Both Wargo and O'Neill agreed that although the percentage of women shopping online is double the number of men, more men will go online for last minute shopping this weekend.

Here is a look at percentages of Valentine's Day shopping for the week beginning Jan. 30, ending Feb. 6, as culled by Nielsen//NetRatings:

Categories Feb. 6 Jan. 30 % Change
Gifts 384996 204,835 88
Lingerie 530,190 297,723 78.1
Gift Certificates259,351 146,240 77.3
Flowers 617,899 467,937 32
Cards 6,804,102 5,246,643 29.7
Super Stores 8,447,7598,346,7561.2
Jewelry 144,004 230,985 -37.7

The slim change in superstore purchases underscored the idea that people looked to buy Valentine items at smaller niche stores, such as Redenvelope.com and Victoria's secret.com rather than from heavyweights such as Amazon.com (AMZN) and Buy.com