Romantic dinners? Obligation chocolate? Rakuten tracks global Valentine’s Day trends

It’s often said that there’s no accounting for taste, but recent research from Rakuten Group companies in Japan and the U.S. has turned the expression on its head by literally doing just that – accounting for taste – at least when it comes to Valentine’s Day.

In the U.S., Valentine’s shoppers plan to keep spending down

According to a January 2018 online survey of 1,008 U.S. adults commissioned by Ebates [1], almost two-thirds (64%) of Americans plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. Of that number, the majority of Americans report that they plan to spend less than $25 on a Valentine’s Day gift (44%). 23% will spend between $25 and $50, and 13% will spend big, shelling out between $50 and $75 for their sweetheart.

Quality time over chocolate

While chocolate remains a top Valentine’s gift in the U.S., it is still only the second most popular present, at 32%. A night out with one’s partner was the most popular response (34%) to how Americans plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day, while flowers and a thoughtful card or letter (26%), or a gift card (23%) were also common responses.

Key cultural differences between U.S. and Japan

While Valentine’s Day in the U.S. has evolved to become an opportunity for mutual gifting, in Japan it’s the women who are expected to give the gifts. In fact, women in Japan are expected to buy not just for that someone special in their lives but also for friends and coworkers. Men aren’t entirely off the hook, however, as they are expected to return the favor one month later on March 14th, known as “White Day.”

Chocolate the undisputed king in Japan

While chocolate is a go-to Valentine’s gift around the world, it is especially popular in Japan, notably as a gift for coworkers – so-called “giri (obligation) choco.” A recent Rakuten Research survey [2] bears out this popularity, finding that just 12.7% of Valentine’s shoppers were planning to buy something other than chocolate. That said, an uncharacteristic advertisement by chocolatier Godiva Japan may impact the trend this year. In a full-page ad in Japan’s leading business newspaper that attracted attention around the world earlier this month, the company’s president asked women to stop buying obligation chocolate for their coworkers and instead focus on giving gifts to people they care about genuinely.

Budgets up in Japan, especially for female friends

While overall budgets were not measured in the survey, Japanese consumers are aiming to spend between 1,000-2,000 yen ($9.20 – 18.50) on those closest to them (“partner” or “someone I have feelings for”), while budgeting between 500-1,000 ($4.60 – 9.20) yen for other instances (“family”, “female friend”, “myself” and “obligatory gifts for colleagues or male friends”). Compared to a similar survey conducted in 2017, respondents are budgeting an increase of about 100 yen ($0.92) YoY for each gift. Female friends can look forward to a 330 yen ($3) increase, which is almost enough to buy an extra ruby chocolate KitKat, if you are lucky enough to find one.

[1] A national survey of 1,008 U.S. adults conducted online by Propeller Insights on behalf of Ebates in January 2018,

[2] The survey of 1000 men and women across Japan aged 20 to 69 registered as monitors with Rakuten Research (who as a group total around 2.3 million) was conducted in January 2018.

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