The Valentine’s Day Massacre

Unlike the Christmas holiday season, the gifts we shower on our beloved for Valentine’s Day all have to get there on the same day, or risk becoming St. Patrick’s Day presents. And it was a task some e-commerce sites couldn’t handle this year.

As the shoppers showed up in force for Valentine’s Day many electronic greeting card and e-commerce sites couldn’t keep up with the demand. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone. In addition to the shorter time frame for gift delivery, Valentine’s Day also serves as a chance for Internet users who first shopped online during the Christmas season to give it another go. There are also more “discreet” purchases made for Valentine’s Day (e.g., lingerie) that are a natural fit for the anonymity online shopping.

A survey conducted by in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day found that 68 percent of respondents said they had purchased or planned to purchase Valentine’s Day gifts online. Only 18 percent said they had purchased Valentine’s Day gifts online in previous years.

Thirty-three percent of the E-BuyersGuide respondents said they planned on spending over $50 online for Valentine’s Day this year. The top five gifts purchases were flowers (22.05 percent), chocolate (22.05 percent), music (18.11 percent), books (16.54 percent), and jewelry (13.39 percent).

Top Flower/Greeting Card Sites
Week Ending 2/12/00
Rank Site Reach

1. 11.3 5,990
2. 8.1 4,281
3. 3.4 1,781
4. 1.6 828
5. 1.3 664
6. 1.0 527
7. 0.9 487
8. 0.8 402
9. 0.6 320
10. 0.6 315
Source: PC Data Online

Web traffic to flower/greeting sites was up, as expected, in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. The top site in the category was, followed by, egreetings, and, according to PC Data Online.

All this traffic made it difficult for many sites to keep up. The performance and availability of popular chocolate and flower sites did not degrade on Feb. 14, according to measurements taken by Keynote, as customers placed their orders the previous week. However, only 67 percent of all chocolate and flower orders placed by Keynote were delivered by Valentine’s Day.

Keynote measured the performance and availability of 12 major chocolate, flower, and greeting card sites from Feb. 7 through Feb. 14, every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pacific Time from 66 Internet access points in 25 metropolitan areas in the US. To measure fulfillment, Keynote ordered three items from each of four top chocolate and four top flower Web sites on Feb. 9 and requested delivery to three separate California addresses.

“The greeting card sites could not serve their Web pages effectively on Feb. 14 when everyone wanted to receive their Valentine’s Day cards on that day,” said Daniel Todd, Director of Public Services at Keynote. “Valentine’s Day is a stricter test of performance and fulfillment than were the Christmas holidays because the target delivery date for an electronic greeting card is only a single day.”

The TurboCupid report by Service Metrics, which measures the performance and availability of 50 popular Valentine’s-oriented e-retailers in six vertical markets including flowers, food/candy, greeting cards, jewelry/perfume/gifts, intimate apparel, and travel, also found sites to be suffering under the weight of heavy traffic demands.

Overall performance scores on the TurboCupid report averaged 7.28 seconds during the week of Feb. 7-13, degrading from the previous week’s score of 6.87 seconds. According to Service Metrics, studies have shown that customers will wait no more than eight seconds for a site to load, and the TurboCupid index showed that 27 percent of the sites surveyed could not meet the eight-second rule.

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