Major storm may be a Valentine's Day buzzkill
Procrastinators may find that a snowy Valentine's will put their plans on ice—or at least, result in one heck of a no-gift excuse.
Florists and other retailers say they're racing to execute contingency plans ahead of the snow and ice storm moving its way up the East Coast. Meteorologists have called the storm "catastrophic," and expect it to trigger widespread power outages and dangerous travel conditions as it dumps ice and snow from Georgia to Maine through Friday—Valentine's Day.
Translation: Plan for potentially delayed gift deliveries and reduced chances of making it out for last-minute shopping or a Valentine's dinner. That could put a big dent in spending for the holiday, which the National Retail Federation had expected could top $17.3 billion. The industry group said the average consumer will spend $133.91 on purchases including flowers, candy, cards and dinner, up from $130.97 in 2013.
"Valentine's Day is the ultimate procrastinator's holiday," said Matthew Rosenheim, president of Washington, D.C., jeweler Tiny Jewel Box. "The storm has the potential to have a major financial impact on the business." The store took to its social media feeds Wednesday, warning customers to check its site for business hours on Thursday and Friday—usually, its two busiest Valentine sales days--as the storm passes.
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By late Wednesday, the storm had triggered service delay warnings by FedEx and UPS. The warnings continued Thursday for the South. FedEx spokesman Ben Hunt said the carrier is monitoring the storm's progression, but expects on-time deliveries for Valentine's Day. (UPS did not respond to requests for comment.)
It's not unusual for bad weather to waylay Valentine's Day plans. "There's always going to be weather somewhere in the middle of February," said Jennifer Sparks, vice president of marketing for the American Society of Florists. "Florists have all dealt with this at one point or another." Many have contingency plans in place, including vehicles with four-wheel drive and extra drivers, to get deliveries out so long as the roads are driveable, she said.
Atlanta florist Sherry Moon arrived for work four hours early Wednesday, with an air mattress in tow. Moon's aim: make sure her 100-plus Valentine's Day orders are ready for delivery when the weather breaks, even if she ends up sleeping at Buckhead Wright's Florist for a night or two. "I know how busy it's going to be, and I'm prepared to do what's got to be done," said Moon, who is also vice president of the Georgia State Florist Association.
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That's a common refrain from florist networks including Teleflora, 1-800-Flowers and FTD, who all said they're working with local operators to get out orders ahead of the storm—assuming delivery before Valentine's Day is more romantic than late. "FTD will all do what we can to make sure Cupid wins out over Mother Nature," said FTD's president and chief executive, Rob Apatoff.
Sandra Nunez of Atlanta was among those who received an early gift; a colorful arrangement of daisies and carnations, with a stuffed bear, from her son. The delivery sheet said Wednesday, but the flowers came Tuesday, during the early hours of the ice storm. "I'm completely surprised that the delivery guy still came out," she said, and noted it was a lucky catch. "I was only at home because my office was closed."
Proactive shoppers may find it helps to call and request earlier delivery, if it hasn't already been offered. Moon suggests reaching out ASAP to reroute delivery if say, your sweetie's office is closed due to the storm. Doing so prevents time wasted from failed delivery attempts, she said.
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Retailers also remain hopeful of last-minute sales when the weather breaks. "While storms typically slow traffic to our stores, our convenience makes it easy for customers to get their last minute shopping done on time for the holiday after the storm has passed," said Mai Lee Ua, a spokeswoman for drugstore chain Walgreens.
When a blizzard came through the area the week of Valentine's in 2010, Tiny Jewel Box saw an uptick in business a day or two after the holiday. Rosenheim said he is anticipating a similar result this year. "You might be able to get away with this storm as an excuse for not having a gift on Valentine's Day," he said.