Data from an e-commerce portal shows that searches for the word "chocolate" on its website numbered 1.48 million, a 268 percent month-on-month rise. As part of an attempt to promote brands, some e-shops encourage users to share their love stories and photos in online forums and social networking sites. (Photo:China Daily)
By He Wei
BEIJING, Feb. 13 -- If we need another sign that the Valentine's Day has become over-commercialized in China, e-commerce sites have now joined in the annual frenzy.
Zhong Junwei, a self-employed online retailer in Shenzhen, never expected to be so busy just two weeks after the Spring Festival, the country's most celebrated holiday.
But with the Valentine's Day around the corner, he soon realized it was a great opportunity to cash in.
Zhong registered his company website, OnlyLove Gift Co Ltd, in Hong Kong five years ago. With the right business acumen, he sensed that the then-fledgling e-commerce was a perfect match for the gift-giving tradition in the Chinese culture.
"We design, manufacture and sell holiday gifts online. Valentine's Day is the one occasion we value most," Zhong told China Daily.
His product line for this Feb 14 stretched from glass trophy cups with sculpted characters that read "Best Boyfriend Award", personalized cushions with a spouse's picture depicted on top and jewelry tailor-made to customers' needs.
Revenue generated on Valentine's Day is on average three times higher than on a normal day. Zhong expects sales to be double those of last year, hitting 2 million yuan ($317,460), a decent gain for a company of 500,000 yuan registered capital.
"The exchange of gifts is important during courtship. It is based in part on establishing one's credentials as a romantic and generous soul," he said.
Zhong's story resembles that of many bigger online markets, where cashing in on romance has started to thrive.
According to data from e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, searches for the word "chocolate" on its Taobao marketplace numbered 1.48 million, a 268 percent month-on-month rise. Nearly 100,000 people ordered 790,409 pieces of chocolate through taobao.com.
Juhuasuan.com, the group-buying arm of Alibaba, introduced localized services such as discounted movie tickets, restaurant reservations and wedding photo coupons in 43 cities one week ahead of the holiday.
Rovio Entertainment Ltd, the maker of the popular game Angry Birds, unveiled its Valentine's Day special offers on its Tmall website, Alibaba's business-to-customer branch.
In an e-mail reply to China Daily, the company said Angry Birds-themed cookies are targeted at the upcoming festival. If bought with a couple of T-shirts, there is a 50 percent discount.
Likewise, yihaodian.com, a Chinese online supermarket in which the US retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc took a stake, also joined the fray. Its group-buying services tried to strike decent bargains for users. A bunch of 11 teddy bears wrapped in a bouquet sells for just 89 yuan. In main street stores the price can be 300 yuan or more.
Yihaodian also enticed customers by offering deeply discounted candies and chocolate bars and "buy one get one free" discounts on about 50 items. For instance, it offered 15 yuan of Ferrero Rocher chocolates for 7.2 yuan. Healthcare food and massage items are also on the promotion list.
These discounts are intended to serve courting couples but also long-married couples when love has outgrown gift-giving rituals and both want something more substantial, said Zou Pin'e, the public relations manager at the company.
Festival marketing has gained a foothold on the e-commerce landscape, according to Wang Yong, vice-president of kela.cn, a shopping portal that sells jewelry.
The company's marketing slogan was that no price was too high for an engagement ring. It presented six rings with heart-shaped diamonds for the special occasion and more than 20 pendants and pearl ornaments at a 20 to 50 percent discount.
As part of its brand promotion, kela.cn encouraged its users to share their love stories and photos in online forums and social networking sites. Couples who join in are entered in a lucky draw with a top prize of a holiday in the Maldives.
"Holiday marketing has encapsulated all the assets of e-commerce businesses, ranging from price, logistics to quality. It is the versatility of products and after-sales services that help us to prosper," Wang said.