A group of girlfriends laughing and drinking wine together.
This year, the National Retail Federation found that consumers plan to spend $10.1 billion on gifts for non-romantic recipients, making up 45% of the total Valentine’s spend. — Getty Images/AleksandarNakic

Key takeaways:

  • One-person households are growing, and now total 36.2 million in the U.S., or 28% of all households.
  • This year, 45% of all the dollars spent for Valentine’s Day will be spent for non-romantic friends, family members and others.
  • Personalization tools give brands the ability to customize their websites and their marketing messages, to very specific audiences throughout the year.

Valentine’s Day used to be a time when the message from advertisers and retailers was the world is made up entirely of happy couples.

Now, marketing around the holiday reflects the growing trend that Valentine’s Day isn’t just for lovers.

It also is a time when brands and retailers are increasingly aware that the happily single demographic is growing faster than the happily-ever-after cohort, and is a year-round business opportunity.

A singular opportunity

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in December that there are an estimated 36.2 million one-person households, making up 28% of all households, up from only 13% in 1960.

In 2020, according to the Census Bureau, 33% of adults had never been married, up from 23% in 1950. The median age for first time marriage is also rising. It was 30.5 years for men and 28.1 for women in 2020, up from 23.7 years for men and 20.5 years for women in 1947.

And in recent years, Americans have spent almost as much on Valentine’s Day gifts for friends, children, schoolteachers, employees, co-workers and others as they have on romantic partners.

This year, consumers plan to spend $10.1 billion on gifts for non-romantic recipients, or 45% of the total Valentine’s spend of $21.8 billion, with $11.7 billion spent on romantic partners, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

Consumers who view it as a day to celebrate solely with a spouse or loved one has declined steadily as well. In this year’s National Retail Federation spending survey, close to half of the consumers surveyed weren’t planning a traditional celebration, but many of those said they still would mark the day, either by treating themselves, buying “anti-Valentine’s gifts” or getting together with friends.

“Galentine’s Day,” the holiday created by the writers of the TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation” in 2010 as a plot device has grown into an annual Feb. 13 event for female friends that rivals Valentine’s Day in popularity on some platforms.

On Etsy this year, there are over 3,000 Galentine’s themed items offered for sale. Amazon, Target, Pandora jewelry, Party City and Hallmark all have extensive offerings of Galentine’s Day gifts, cards and decorations on their websites.

It’s less about them being single and it’s more about how they’re shopping and what their motivation is.

Nathan Richter, vice president of strategy and insights, Dynamic Yield

Food to home brands court singles

The growth in the singles population is fueling trends beyond Valentine’s Day.

Food companies have long recognized the value of offering single-serve and small household sizes.

Conagra Brands, with its Duncan Hines cake brand, introduced “Perfect Size for One” single servings in 2017, and General Mills launched Betty Crocker Mug Treats, mixes for individual cupcakes and muffins, in 2018.

Appliance companies have created compact versions of stoves, washing machines and dishwashers to fit the small apartments and lifestyles of single urban dwellers.

The growth in single households and later marriages for millennials have contributed to the growth of the rental economy, with companies like Rent the Runway for clothing, or Fernish and Feather for furniture, meeting the needs of singles with small closets, or those who aren’t ready to make a permanent commitment to a couch or dining room table.

Personalized digital marketing to a party of one

E-commerce, with so many consumers purchasing or discovering products online, and social media, which has given brands new ways to target specific types of customers, have made it easier for companies to tailor marketing messages to singles, Nathan Richter, vice president of strategy and insights for Dynamic Yield, a company that creates personalization tools for brands, told CO—.

“Everything is really moving towards [having] more segmented messages in the market to try to attract more customers,” Richter said.

“There’s a theme in digital called zero-party data, which means it’s not information I observed about you, it’s not data I might have purchased about you, it’s literally what can you tell me right in this moment to help me personalize and get the shopping experience right for you,” he said.

Brands can get that zero-party data by asking digital customers questions like, “Who are you shopping for?” or, “How will you be using this product?” when they come to a website.

“We can ask, ‘Are you shopping for yourself, for a friend, or for the family?’ Then we’re able to use that information and change pretty much anything about the on-site shopping experience,” Richter said.

With a holiday like Valentine’s Day, “there are so many different reasons why somebody may be shopping,” he said. Getting those answers allows brands to quickly modify the digital shopping experience to highlight products for friends rather than romantic partners.

Trying to come up with campaigns to target single shoppers can be tricky, he noted, because even members of large families can act as single shoppers when they are buying something for themselves, like a pair of shoes.

Now personalization tools are giving brands, through their digital interactions, the ability to identify single shoppers and create custom messages for all types of consumers. That stands in contrast from the past, when a brand had to pick a single theme or target audience for its television or print Valentine’s Day campaign.

And just as there are lots of different reasons people are buying Valentine’s Day gifts, there are lots of different kinds of singles.

To connect with today’s single shoppers, Richter said, “it’s less about them being single and it’s more about how they’re shopping and what their motivation is,” he said.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Follow us on Instagram for more expert tips & business owners stories.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.