Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the festival that celebrates romantic love. It has also become one of the biggest gifting days in India. Lovers gift each other, as do new-age spouses and partners. Some Indian retailers have told me that they see huge sales spikes on Valentine’s Day, which are even higher than the traditional peak shopping days of Diwali or Navaratri. How times have changed, and may the cash registers ring merrily tomorrow! While Valentine’s Day has become a fixture on the Indian shopping calendar for several years now, a big change in consumer behaviour appears to be coming our way this year. People are no longer happy gifting their romantic partners merely roses or chocolates, these are passé. They are seeking unconventional Valentine’s gifts, and suddenly there are several on offer, in every large Indian city. Consider these lovely illustrations.

•Shaze, a brand of jewellery, fragrances and other luxury gifts, is urging customers to “Un-Rose” on Valentine’s Day. Instead of a conventional gift like a rose, this brand is recommending that we gift awesome sassy scarves from Shaze, which come specially designed with a hidden love note that will surprise the woman in your life. One such hidden love note says: “He loves you like a fat kid loves chocolate.” Now, that is quite evocative.

•Many online stores, including Amazon and the lesser known Loverslane.com, are offering a “Shunga Garden of Edo Kit” as an unusual Valentine’s Gift. This kit comprises a hamper of goodies for “organically orgasmic moments”, including lotus flower foaming sea crystals, organic massage oil, and Chinese green tea. Amazon also assures us of “discreet shipping, privacy respected”, should we take courage to buy this exotic hamper for our partners and ourselves.

•A delectable Valentine’s Collection is on offer at yet another interesting Indian e-commerce store, privypleasures.com. This includes sensual lingerie, dress, handcuffs and body-stockings. The site helpfully tells us: “The most romantic day in the year deserves an extra effort on your part to dress, or, shall we say, undress with style. Whether you are searching for intimate gifts for him or her, wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend, you have come to the right place!” To ensure that we conclude this is indeed the right place, we are also offered a flat 20 per cent off as a pre-Valentine offer, for all shopping above ₹3,000.

•A well known private club in Mumbai has announced that it will organise a very special romantic evening on Valentine’s Day. Set at a beautiful spot overlooking the Arabian Sea, it will offer a seven-course set menu hosted by a master chef, and a glass of pink champagne, all under the stars. Should you consider this unusual gift for your loved one, you must note the price. A cool ₹50,000 per couple.

•For health- and fitness-conscious couples, Gold’s Gym has crafted a Valentine’s gift called “Romance your Curves.” This is a membership only for couples, at a fabulous 40 per cent off the usual rate, if booked prior to Valentine’s Day. “What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than at Gold’s Gym,” says the advertisement, even as it displays the picture of a fit and sexy couple.

Many of these unusual gifts are finding large numbers of takers. When I visited the Shaze store located at the Palladium Mall in Mumbai, it had already received quite a few enquiries for the scarves featuring hidden love notes. E-commerce sites offering non-conventional gifts, such as privypleasures.com and ThatsPersonal.com, are reportedly drawing thousands of shoppers each day. No wonder Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce player, has dedicated an entire store to Valentine’s Day, packed not just with the usual stuff (chocolates, watches, perfumes and jewellery) but also a range of unusual gifts such as wine glasses, resort wear, custom-made pairs of socks, pens engraved with personal messages and a beer-making kit.

What is driving such consumer behaviour towards non-conventional gifting? Here are some thoughts for you to consider.

These are relevant to marketers as they decide how to position their wares. And, of course, they are important to you, as you decide what to buy for your loved one on Valentine’s Day.

Making the right impression None of us want to be perceived as boring, by the person we love. An unusual gift helps you make the right impression on this front, and to be seen as one who loves to explore and experiment. Receiving the same old rose as a gift, however pleasant it may be, is still likely to become a somewhat boring thing — particularly in these modern “instant” times, when boredom is quick to set in. On the other hand, if you gift your girl a colourful bikini for the next beach holiday, it is unlikely that she will consider you boring.

Gifts reflect your special effort Most people would like their partner to know they have made a special effort in selecting a Valentine’s gift, because the partner is such a special person in their lives. A normal box of chocolates, however delicious, is unlikely to convey such “specialness”.

On the other hand, if every chocolate were to be customised with the partner’s name, or if the gift was a beautiful pen engraved with a personal message, then that would reflect the special effort made in selecting the gift. Even as many more Indians get increasingly affluent, and also find that such customisation is not very expensive, particularly with modern technology, they will seek out this path to novel gifting.

Igniting the spark Many unusual Valentine’s gifts are sensual or erotic — including lingerie, edible body paint, massage oil and aphrodisiacs. These ignite the sexual spark that lovers or partners wish to light in each other, and appropriately enough on a day dedicated to romantic love.

For spouses or partners in a relationship over several years, these products also provide an opportunity to rekindle the same spark, and bring excitement back into the bedroom.

With the emergence of online stores which promise “discreet shopping in black boxes,” Indians no longer have to shop hurriedly or with embarrassment in seedy stores or crowded markets to buy such erotic gifts.

This has, in turn, created new opportunity for Indian marketers to cater to a pent-up human need.So many gifts we receive lie unused, and are often also promptly recycled within a few months. None of us would like this to happen to a gift we give our partner or spouse. A candle-lit Valentine’s dinner solves this problem quite neatly, because it becomes a special experience that is consumed on the spot.

Gifts that you can use An unusual gift not normally associated with Valentine’s Day, but which you know your partner will certainly use, also achieves the same objective. So if your boyfriend has spoken to you about his desire to make wine or beer, then a wine-making or beer-brewing kit would be a wonderful gift which you can be almost certain he will use. Similarly, if your wife has spoken at some point about her interest in photography, then buying her a book on photography, or, better still, a camera of her choice, would make for an excellent, though unusual, Valentine’s gift.

Marketers need to leverage these drivers of consumer behaviour strongly, not just during Valentine’s week, but for virtually every gifting occasion across the year. As a consumer, you may wish to consider buying an unusual gift yourself, on Valentine’s Day. I asked a few of my colleagues about non-conventional Valentine’s gifts which they would consider buying for their partners or spouses. The answers spanned a wide range: from a Jeep, to a puppy, to a hot balloon ride, to a spa voucher, to equity shares. What will be your choice of gift? Do write in, and let me know. Happy Valentine’s Day!

(Harish Bhat is Member, Group Executive Council, Tata Sons. He is the author of ‘Tata Log: Eight modern stories from a timeless institution’. These are his personal views. bhatharish@hotmail.com )

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