BEIJING - Following hard on the heels of a record spending binge by the Chinese over Spring Festival of 404.5 billion yuan ($61.29 billion), another shopping season has arrived with Valentine's Day and the traditional Lantern Festival both occurring this week.
Bookings have been in full swing at Laitai Flower Market, Beijing's biggest flower market, for Valentine's Day on Feb 14.
"We have received more than 100 orders a day recently," said Yin Ping, a flower retailer at the market.
Last Wednesday a single rose could be bought and sent on Valentine's Day for 8 yuan plus delivery charges. The cost of taking one away was 4.5 yuan. It is expected that the price for sending a rose, excluding delivery charges, will rise to more than 10 yuan on the big day.
"The price on the morning of Feb 14 is highly likely to be more expensive based on the current booking situation. It is almost double the price of last year," Yin said.
About 20 retailers sell freshly cut flowers at Laitai Flower Market.
Yin's neighboring shopkeeper, Yang Xue, also said she expected prices to rise as Feb 14 approached because wholesale prices were also up. "All roses in this market came from Southwest China's Yunnan province, where there was a very hard drought in 2010, which may led to lower production and consequent higher prices at the beginning of this year," she added.
Because Valentine's Day comes soon after the Lunar New Year, the prices for most goods have remained higher than normal. It is expected the consumer price index for the first month of 2011 might have returned to 5 percent or even higher, based on the latest food price data from the National Bureau of Statistics.
Beijing's famed Western restaurant Maxim's is offering dinner reservations for set meal menus on Valentine's Day at 799 yuan and 999 yuan for each person. Last week it was nearly fully booked.
In Beijing's Solana shopping center, where many imported goods are sold, wine, chocolate, cakes and candles are selling well.
Mao Chunying, who sells American candle brand Yankee Candle, said daily receipts have exceeded 10,000 yuan with more than half of the customers being foreign. The candles cost from 150 to 500 yuan.
"Our most popular gift boxes cost from 100 to 300 yuan and contain two bottles of wine," said Li Shu, a shop manager at 90 Plus wine chain store, which sells imported wine from France, Italy and Chile.
Shopping online was expected to be a new trend for this year's Valentine's Day. According to a news release from China's biggest consumer-to-consumer website, Taobao.com, 2.1 million roses were sold daily during the past week, up 110 percent year-on-year. Meanwhile, sales of chocolate and accessories grew 105 percent at 40,000 boxes and 50,000 pieces respectively a day.
Customized gifts such as cups, calendars and T-shirts featuring photos of clients with their loved one are also popular. The best-sellers are clay puppets shaped in the couple's image. More than 9,000 of them were sold last week.
According to Taobao.com, Lord Rabbit, a traditional handmade clay figure representing a mythical bunny sent down from the moon to bring health to Chinese people, is making a triumphant comeback to the gift market, given that 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit.
The Ministry of Commerce revealed that the Chinese spent 404.5 billion yuan during the Spring Festival holiday this year, up 19 percent from 2010.