Penny-pinching romance puts Valentine's florists in the red

Recession seems to mean saying 'I love you' without flowers. Florists report orders are down almost 70 per cent on last year - and those who do order want special deals, like rock-bottom delivery rates to Sheung Shui.

And florists are not the only ones feeling love-related penny-pinching; some companies are feeling compelled to spend more on marketing to try to entice customers.

The supervisor of Ngau Tau Kok florist Fa May Yee, Cheung Yuk-mui, said orders were only a third the level of last year.

'We can only hope for more walk-in customers on February 13 and 14,' she said. 'The most extreme case was a man who wanted to pay HK$300 for a flower delivery to Sheung Shui. The price he asked for is even cheaper than normal days.' The shop turned down his request.

The store used to offer discounts if its customers placed their orders before February 10. It extended the offer until the 12th this year, but was still unable to boost numbers. 'We definitely can't meet the sales figure of last year. Other florists said their sales have halved,' Ms Cheung said.

Ambassador Flowers & Gifts Design international marketing manager Julie Yan Wai-lan said the company believed Valentine's Day sales would be down between 10 and 20 per cent compared to last year.

'It is because of the financial meltdown, as well as Valentine's Day falling on a Saturday,' Ms Yan said.

The company offered flowers in a larger price range, from HK$500 to HK$5,000, this year, she said.

Research company AdmanGo, comparing year-on-year marketing spending for Valentine's Day, said there had been an overall 12 per cent increase this year.

The top categories for such spending were the same as in 2008 - watches and clocks, movie and theatre tickets, and jewellery.

This year has also seen advertising spending on red and white wine jump 162 per cent, while champagne was down 54 per cent.

AdmanGo spokeswoman Jennifer Ma said there had been big increases in advertising spending for luxury items such as jewellery, watches and designer bags. 'However, lower price range advertisers in these categories tended to turn to less expensive marketing mediums, such as public relations,' she said.

Shopping centres have ramped up marketing spending and promotions. The MTR Corp released figures showing a 15 per cent increase.

Dwindling passenger numbers have also led to Cathay Pacific and Dragonair introducing cheap couples airfares to Korea, Taiwan and the mainland this weekend.

The 'Smart Saver Valentine's Specials' were not available in 2007 or last year.

Others are offering cash-strapped consumers cheaper, more novel, ways to express their love. Many malls will be covered with roses in heart shapes for lovers to include in photographs, and musical performers will be available to dedicate songs, free of charge, to those out shopping.

Promotional boost

Spending on advertising of red and white wine during this Valentine's Day season has jumped: 162%