(NECN: Peter Howe, Cambridge, Mass.) Flowers, chocolate, a romantic meal -- all appropriate for Valentine's Day. But this year maybe nothing says "I love you" quite like a cellphone text message.
A text message, that is, that bears a coupon redeemable for a free bouquet or sweet treat. That's the 2010 Valentine's Day innovation courtesy of KangoGift.com, a three-month-old Cambridge startup.
Explains KangoGift CEO and co founder Todd Horton, "People are using the mobile phone for just more and more shopping, so what we did was come up with, basically, a platform where people could give a real gift instantly via text message.'' From KangoGift.com or Facebook, you can find and pay for a selection of flowers, restaurant gift certificates, and other presents. When you order, your recipient gets sent a message with a special code. "When somebody comes into the store, they simply show their phone, and they can redeem the voucher right from the phone,'' Horton explains.
Early adopter Brian Shen, a Harvard College junior from Newport Beach, Calif., already this winter has sent Kango gifts a half-dozen times. Compared to the hassle of handing someone a box of chocolates or flowers, "Getting a text message is actually just really convenient because, you don't have to carry it around the whole day.'' The recipient can choose the most convenient time to collect his or her gift. Shen adds that there is also a definite "cool factor" for the iPhone Generation. "Technology is always great with students. Getting a text message is one of the coolest things you can get for a gift.''
Finale, a group of three bakery restaurants in Harvard Square, Coolidge Corner, and Boston's Park Plaza, is among a dozen Boston area eateries and stores -- and three national chains -- using Kango. Paul Conforti, president and co-founder of Finale, said, "We're looking for any and every opportunity for people to have reason to come into the restaurant.'' While Kango was quietly launched as a beta service in late October and hasn't been heavily promoted, through word of mouth and other "viral marketing," more than 180 customers have come into Finale so far to redeem gifts sent to them by friends -- including one young woman whose friend sent her a text redeemable for a free cheesecake to console her after the woman's boyfriend broke up with her. Conforti says Kango is also proving popular with out-of-town parents who send their college-age kids in Cambridge Kango coupons to enjoy a Finale treat.
Like many merchants and restaurateurs, Conforti says that "Valentine's Day is the biggest day of the year for us at Finale, by far.''
Indeed, nationally, St. Valentine's Day is a day of big love -- and big money. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $14.1 billion this February 14. That's down -- blame the recession -- from $14.7 billion last year. According to the federation, 55 percent of us send cards for the day, 47 percent give candy -- three-quarters of that chocolate -- and 36 percent spring for an evening out.
Valentine's Day is also one holiday -- maybe the only one all year -- when men are more thoughtful and generous than women. The Retail Federation says while women spend on average $72.28, for men, it's $135.35 .
And, thinking of what notorious procrastinators men who celebrate that holiday are with Christmas shopping -- now, men can blow off Valentine's shopping until the last second. "For Valentine's Day,'' laughs KangoGift's Horton, "if you need to just give something to anybody -- a loved one or just a colleague or someone -- you come to our site, it's two or three clicks, the gift is delivered right away, and then they know you're thinking of them.''