February 20, 2004, 12:00 AM

Valentine’s Day purchases rev up retailers’ mid-winter sales

Retailers sell tons of cut flowers and 36 million heart-shaped chocolates boxes to rack up an estimated $12 billion-plus. Flower and gift sites get an estimated 3.22% of all retail web site visits on Feb. 13.

Hitwise, which measures web traffic, reports that Valentine’s Day holiday traffic was up 15% over last year at the flower and gift sites it monitors, peaking on Feb. 13 to capture 3.22% of all U.S. visits to retail web sites. “Flowers” was the most popular search term driving traffic to flower and gift sites, and was responsible for nearly 9% of the traffic to sites in the category. The most-visited sites among flower and gift sites monitored by Hitwise in the week ending Feb. 14 were Hallmark.com, 1-800-Flowers.com, FTD.com, Dayspringcards.com and Proflowers.com.

1-800-Flowers.com filled more than 800,000 orders from Jan. 27 through Feb. 14, with more than 65% of them coming in online. By the time Valentine’s Day was over, 1-800-Flowers had sold more than 3 million roses, almost 1 million tulips, and more than 50,000 pounds of chocolate in addition to gifts ranging from plush toys to jewelry and gift baskets. The company’s third annual Valentine`s Day sweepstakes, in which web site visitors created and rated romantic or humorous Valentine’s Day card messages for a chance at a Caribbean vacation, drew 30,000 online entries. CEO Jim McCann notes the holiday has become the company’s third largest sales period, following the December holidays and the spring season that includes Easter and Mother’s Day.

At flower site Proflowers.com, operated by Provide Commerce Inc., shipments during the week ending Feb. 14 topped 400,000 orders, a leap from 304,000 during the Valentine’s Day period the previous year. Based on its Valentine’s Day sales, Provide Commerce is boosting its estimates of annual sales to $116 million to $120 million, up from the previously reported estimates of $113 million to $117 million.

Total Valentine`s Day sales were estimated in the range of $12 billion-plus, according to the National Retail Federation, and web merchants got their share. Retail sales for the week ending on Valentine’s Day were up 25.5% over the same week a year ago, reports ShopperTrak’s National Retail Sales Estimate.

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