Surfing for Love

Many Internet users are trying to “click” with someone online, as looking for love becomes a popular Web activity — and big business too. Growing traffic to various dating and Valentine’s Day-related Web sites is translating into millions of dollars in paid content and consumer spending.

Top 10 Personals Sites for Week Ending February 2 (U.S., Home)
Brand/Channel Unique Audience
1. 1,171,000
2. Yahoo! Personals 773,000
3. American Singles 610,000
4. MSN Love & Relationships 590,000
5. 364,000
6. HOT or NOT? 316,000
7. 308,000
8. Matchmaker 246,000
9. 230,000
10. 215,000
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings, February 2003

“The use of personals sites is becoming more mainstream,” said Carolyn Clark, senior Internet analyst, Nielsen//NetRatings. “As the stigma of meeting someone online diminishes across all demographics, personals sites are expanding their reach because the Internet provides a solid community base for them to thrive.”

Months before Valentine’s Day, in December 2002, comScore Media Metrix, a division of comScore Networks, found that 7.9 million at-work Internet users visited personals Web sites, accounting for 35 percent of all time spent at these sites. Furthermore, the average workplace visitor to dating Web sites spent 51 minutes looking for love, compared to 37 minutes for at-home visitors.

Deeper analyis from comScore revealed that nearly 53 percent of visitors to personals sites were faithful to one site, while 30 percent used two or three sites, and 17 percent visited four or more. Most of the online dating surfers were male (53.6 percent vs. 46.4 percent female) and in the 35 to 44-year-old age group, followed by 45 to 54-year-olds, and 25 to 34-year-olds.

A joint study between comScore and the Online Publishers Association found that the “personals” category grew 387 percent to become the largest online paid content category among consumers in the third quarter of 2002, surpassing business content. The online personals industry posted $87.2 million in revenue in the third quarter 2002 — nearly a quarter of every dollar spent on consumer content online.

The spending is not over once the love connection is made, as research indicates that Valentine’s Day is becoming a big retail holiday, with sales of candy and other romantic gifts soaring.

Candy Sales, U.S. 2002
Time Period Holiday $ Volume
Week Ending 2/16/02 Valentine’s Day week $358,159,232
Week Ending 3/30/02 Week leading up to Easter $323,431,145
Week Ending 11/02/02 Halloween week $318,319,438
Week Ending 12/21/02 Week leading up to Christmas $273,221,438
Source: ACNielsen Strategic Planner, Grocery/Drug/Mass Merchandise
(excluding Wal-Mart) Combined

It’s all about the chocolate, according to AC Nielsen, as the firm reports that 62 percent of all candy sold throughout the year is chocolate, swelling to 70 percent during Valentine’s week. Also, sales of holiday and boxed chocolate candy jumps from 32 percent for the year to 72 percent during Valentine’s Day week, with most packaged in heart-shaped boxes.

Along with the candy-makers, other retailers are cashing in on Valentine’s Day too. Data from Nielsen//NetRatings showed that traffic increased 24 percent in the week before the holiday to 233,000 unique visitors at home, and gift merchant Red Envelope experienced a 33 percent increase in at home unique audience traffic during the week ending February 2.

Online gift, flower and greeting cards merchants reported 13 percent of their annual sales in the three weeks before Valentine’s Day, comScore found, but according to CoolSavings, Inc., 78 percent of consumers plan to spend less than $50 on Valentine’s gifts in 2003.

How much are you planning to spend on your Valentine this year?
  Men Women
Less than $10 4% 18%
$10 – $25 23% 36%
$26 – $50 32% 28%
$51 – $75 9% 6%
$76 – $100 17% 6%
$101 – $150 2% 3%
$151 – $200 1% 2%
More than $200 12% 1%
Source: CoolSavings, Inc

“In today’s economy, consumers are cutting back spending across all areas of their lives, including gift-giving,” said Matt Moog, president and chief executive officer of CoolSavings.

So, what are Valentines spending their money on?

Top 10 Gifts
  Total Men Women
Cards 75% 75% 75%
Candy 33% 30% 36%
Flowers 22% 35% 8%
Gift Certificate/Card 15% 20% 10%
Stuffed Animals/Balloons 14% 16% 12%
Dinner/Entertainment Events 13% 21% 5%
Perfume/Cologne 9% 12% 5%
Jewelry 8% 12% 3%
Lingerie/Clothes 7% 10% 3%
Books 6% 2% 10%
Source: Brand Keys, Inc.

“It may be accurate to note that men are usually from Mars and women are usually from Venus, but they seem to pretty much think the same way when it come to how they’ll celebrate the holiday,” notes said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, Inc.

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